Women & Mangroves, all Work and No Recognition

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), based in Washington, D.C., evaluated women's participation in the Cogtong Bay Mangrove Management Project in the Philippines. Their findings reveal a discouragingly familiar story: More than 50% of participants in project activities were women, yet women received none of the project's benefits, such as tenure over mangrove areas, membership in associations and credit.

The mangrove project aimed to reduce the depletion of mangroves in Cogtong Bay, located on the island of Bohol in the Philippines. Mangroves and their related ecosystems, an important resource for local communities, are threatened by overuse and misuse throughout the world. In Cogtong Bay, mangrove stands are being depleted by illegal fish-pond construction while the related marine resources are declining due to overfishing, dynamiting (an illegal fishing technique) and the violation of other resource protection laws. The project attempted to provide incentives to individuals who displayed capable resource management by providing 75-year leases over mangrove areas and encouraging them to reforest their plots.

A Closer Look

In 1992, ICRW conducted a rapid rural appraisal (RRA) to determine the extent of women's participation in conservation and natural resource management. Data were collected over a three-week period through semi-structured group interviews of women (and in some cases men) in the local language at four project sites. Although the evaluation team specifically requested that men not be present, interviewing women alone proved impossible. Fortunately, the women spoke out whether men were present or not. Sometimes the men provided interesting insights, as men and women provided different responses and attempted to explain the differences. The team cross-checked answers given in group interviews through informal conversations with project staff and with individuals outside the group setting.

Staff member responses indicated that they had never thought about women's roles as separate from their husbands', even though half of the key staff were women. In contrast, women community members initially portrayed themselves as "wives assisting their husbands," but quickly shifted to describe their roles as individuals separate from their husbands. The RRA revealed the following issues and concerns.

  • Women depend on natural resources for their livelihood and therefore are concerned about the depletion of mangrove forests.

  • Women became involved in the project despite a lack of plans to deliberately include women because they played active roles in the social and economic life of the community and could see the value of resource management in terms of their current and future livelihood.

  • Women attended meetings, became officers of community organizations set up by project staff, made decisions and undertook project activities although no provision was made for them to become members of these organizations. Project records do not show the extent of women's participation because, even when women themselves attended meetings, their attendance was registered under their husbands' names.

  • Women provided voluntary labor for planting and tending mangroves and adopting mariculture techniques demonstrated by project staff.

  • Women were effectively excluded from project benefits such as tenure, and formal membership in associations and credit.

  • The failure to award women individual tenure over mangrove plots undermined a key strategy of the project, which was to use private ownership as an incentive to encourage better mangrove management practices.

  • Women wanted formal membership in associations so they could obtain credit.

  • Women wanted to obtain mangrove tenure certificates in their own names to use as collateral to secure credit. (One woman joked--we think--that she would gladly offer her husband as collateral!)

    Lessons Learned

    The ICRW team reported four important lessons learned from the evaluation.

  • Providing access and control of resources to male household heads alone is not sufficient to ensure project success.

  • Project designers and implementers should include the views and interests of women in all aspects of the project. Had this been done in Cogtong Bay, project designers might have discovered early on what women already knew, that illegal fishing could not be controlled by the community because the wrongdoers were conspiring with the law-enforcement officials. Women felt the project should have focused on developing alternate economic activities that did not rely on access to coastal resources.

  • Linking resource-management efforts to income-enhancing activities that yield short-term results allows women to meet their economic needs while pursuing the long-term goals of conservation and resource management.

  • Ignoring women's roles in project design and implementation can result in significant missed opportunities.

    Potential Remains

    The recommendations made by ICRW require small, but significant changes in project implementation, no new resources, and are valuable lessons that have wide applications for natural resource management projects worldwide. However, at the time of the survey, project activities had been temporarily suspended due to lack of funding. Without consistent funding it is unrealistic to expect project activities to continue in an area so resource-poor. If additional funding, such as seed money, becomes available, some should be earmarked for women. Considerable potential exists within the community to use such funds productively in one or more activities that combine resource management with income generation.

    Mehra, R. et. al. 1993. Women's Participation in the Cogtong Bay Mangrove Mgt. Project: A Case Study. Collaborative Research Report, WWF and ICRW.


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