Gender aware development planning

In the previous post we learned about Gender and Natural Resources The topic of gender awareness in development efforts, particularly for livelihoods, is covered in this post.


  1. Introduction
  2. Joint Forest Management and Eco-development
  3. Social forestry: Afforestation for Fuel wood and Fodder Plantation
  4. Integrated Watershed Development Programme
  5. Local biodiversity management committee
  6. Successes of gendered-approach to development


Equal rights for men and women are guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. It is the responsibility of the State to actively promote the advancement of women in India. Since women's development needs and goals can differ from men's, it is anticipated that all development programmes adhere to gender-sensitive planning methods. The primary goal of the implementation techniques is to guarantee that women receive the advantages of the programmes and to advance their emancipation by institutionalising and deepening their involvement in local decision-making. The Indian government has started a number of initiatives for the management of natural resources. The majority of them guarantee women's involvement. However, there is significant heterogeneity amongst programmes and inconsistent success in terms of ensuring equal involvement in decision-making. The following is a quick description of a few programmes that are intended to significantly increase the role of women in natural resource management.

Joint Forest Management and Eco-development 

The Forest Department started the Joint Forest Management initiative to involve locals in the management of forest lands. In locations close to protected areas, eco-development programmes serve as the equivalent of JFMCs (Wildlife sanctuaries, National Park etc.) For them to be able to meet their basic demands for fuelwood and fodder as well as to enhance their quality of life, women, particularly those who live in forestry periphery areas, have an interest in the productivity and health of natural resources. The Joint Forest Management Committees, which are community-based organisations for the conservation, protection, and management of degraded forests, have built-in provisions for women's participation. The goal of JFMC's initiatives is to assist persons whose quality of life has been impacted by forest loss.

Committee formation

It's anticipated that
  • The JFM general body should include at least 50% female members.
  • Among the general body's female members, at least 33 percent of the positions on the JFM Executive Committee and Management Committee should be filled. At least one of the office-bearer positions, such as president, vice president, or secretary, shall be filled by a female committee member.
The village-level committees established as part of the Eco-development initiative around Protected Areas must likewise abide by these rules. The forest department's workforce is given specialised training on gender issues and empowering women. The JFM has made progress in many areas. Creating women's self-help groups to engage in livelihood activities was one of them. In Chandrapur district, the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra has enlisted the support of women's self-help organisations to manage medicinal plant nurseries and process products made from medicinal plants.

Women must not only join the JFMCs but also attend meetings and voice their members in order for them to effectively participate in decision-making (at least some of the times). Participating actively will ensure that choices are made in their favour or, at the very least, that their concerns are appropriately acknowledged. In other words, instead of acting as token participants, they should take full responsibility for their participation.

According to Bina Agarawal's study (Agarwal, 2001), women are frequently not even nominal members. In reality, they make up less than 10% of the majority of JFM general bodies. State-specific JFM membership requirements frequently favour men over women. In West Bengal, if a woman's spouse belongs to JFM, she immediately joins. However, in these situations, the husbands are regarded as the main members. Communities occasionally create their own organisations. However, these groups frequently mimic the traditional exclusion of women from village governing structures. In 60% of the JFM groups in West Bengal, there were no women on the executive committees, and landless families were underrepresented. Men frequently made decisions without consulting women when they were not there. Despite the fact that women made more frequent daily trips to members where fuel and feed could be collected, women were never contacted by forest officials when developing micro-plans or forest usage regulations. It is evident that upper caste women dominate other women in decision-making even in cases where women are present. These flaws and errors go against the fundamental ideas of gender equality in NRM. "Participatory Exclusion" is what Bina Agarwal calls this.

Of course, there are exceptions, but they are uncommon. The successful participation of women in decision-making can be ensured by the existence of an NGO in the area, the intervention of especially motivated authorities, or the leadership of local women.

Social forestry: Afforestation for Fuel wood and Fodder Plantatio

In India, fuelwood and fodder are necessary for survival since they are the cheapest and most practical sources of energy for homes and cattle. Nearly all rural households and even many urban households agree with this. Women from lower middle-class and poorer households frequently utilise fuelwood for heating and cooking in urban areas. Over more expensive LPG or electricity, it is favoured. It was essential to ensure the availability of fuelwood and feed without endangering the natural forests in order to prevent resource overexploitation.

Forest Development Agencies (FDA) were established in several locations to encourage the regeneration, development, and restoration of the degraded forests with the active participation of the local community. Under order to support the growth of Joint Forest Management in the Afforestation Programme, this serves as both a financing instrument and a coordinating body. The scheme's main goal was to encourage micro-planning for afforestation in order to properly satisfy the needs of the populace for fuelwood and feed. The women's toil would have been lessened, and pay employment would have been guaranteed. The people's quality of life will be impacted in a number of different ways by this procedure. The gender issues have also been considered in the rules controlling the FDAs' structure. The plan included the following clauses:
  • Ensuring seats for women representatives as chairpersons of the groups. 
  • Ensuring almost 50% representation of the women in executive committee as in JFMC
Women were frequently employed but did not always enjoy equal rights to participation or decision-making. It evolved into more of a women's job programme where they had little to no say in what would be planted or harvested or how money would be spent. Women frequently felt excluded from the very plantations they had grown up on and guarded. Due to erroneous assumptions, women were denied access to fuel and fodder lots by forest employees or organisations with a male predominance, even when that was their primary goal. As a result, fewer women participated in the afforestation programme overall.

Integrated Watershed Development Programme

Another essential resource in which women have numerous stakes is water. Millions of women in India spend numerous hours each day collecting enough water for their family. Young girls are frequently compelled to leave their schools to fetch water. Women frequently go considerable distances to obtain water, wash their clothing and other items, etc. Climate change makes it more difficult to obtain enough water, and given the logistical and financial challenges, it is impossible to distribute water to individual dwellings. Watershed development and management was therefore thought of as a significant programme that would help women.

What is watershed development? 

Watershed development is the preservation, renewal, and wise use of all the natural (such as land, water, plants, and animals) and human resources found within a watershed.

Women should participate at all levels, from state and district watershed development committees to local committees in the village, according to the Ministry of Rural Development's recommendations for watershed development. The Watershed Committee (WC), which oversees the day-to-day activities of the Watershed Development Project, may make sure that there is at least a third female representation on the Committee in accordance with the criteria.

Watershed Development Programmes (WDP) were launched in the 1990s to scale up watershed management. They tried to establish repeatable participatory watershed development across large areas. The watershed effort is supported by external technological knowledge and a suitable wage input. Through "Shramdan," the populace contributes a portion of the costs. Often, this procedure would be mediated by an NGO partner. The Village Watershed Committee (VWC), which is (typically) supported by an NGO, organised the project, which was carried out by those who reside in the Watershed. The Gram Sabha unanimously elects representatives to the VWC, a watershed-level representative body (village body). At least 30% of the members of the VWC (Village Watershed Committee) are women. It also features a unique provision for a Women's Development Fund within the programme, wherein 5% of project funds are set aside for establishing SHGs, promoting lending and saving initiatives, as well as engaging in "Social Development" and "Income Generating Activities."

The initiative has come under fire because it was seen that "women's participation" was frequently restricted to labor-intensive tasks like digging up dirt, building bunds, planting trees, and providing "shramdan" (volunteer labour), while men maintained the reins of authority. It served as more of an income source than an empowering tool for changing the way they lived by safeguarding natural resources for many women. For women, especially those from marginal and landless households who relied on these lands for their daily needs, rules like prohibiting grazing or wood collection in the forest, establishing plantations over former grazing lands, introducing exotic trees into the landscape, etc. caused more problems. They gained relatively little in return, and that too over an extended period of time, as the watershed primarily benefited agricultural activities while negatively affecting communities that depended on pastoral and NTFP livelihoods. But women from all castes and classes received the benefits, thanks to the Watershed Organization Trust (WOTR) and other groups that actively participated in mediation. Successful programmes allowed women to have cash on hand thanks to wage income. Their family's social standing improved thanks to regular monetary income. Gender relations were impacted by this. Meeting participation steadily increased one's capacity for decision-making.

Local biodiversity management committee

Women also have a tight association with biodiversity in addition to land, water, and wood. Natural environments, wild flora, and animals make up biodiversity. Women are known to have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to using wild plants as food and medicine. Particularly during times of food scarcity, wild plants are essential for household nutrition and food security.

To plan, conserve, and manage local biodiversity, all local bodies are required by the Biological Diversity Act of 2002 to establish Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC). A minimum of one-third women must be present on the committee's six-person roster. Additionally required are reservations for Scheduled Castes and Tribes according to state demographics. The committees' primary responsibilities are to document biodiversity and folklore. If biological resources have the potential to be used commercially, the community may engage into an agreement with corporations for a fair part of the profits from commercialization. There hasn't been much actual application of this rule, and not enough research has been done on gender issues and how BMCs operate. The exclusion of women, as is now the case in many of the NRM organisations mentioned above, is feared to follow, though.

Women are among those who are best knowledgeable about how to use the local biodiversity. Any commercialization of the information or resource will rob the owners of their intellectual property rights and deny them their just part of the rewards. As a result, the act's execution requires great attention.

Successes of gendered-approach to development

Overall, there is much more gender awareness in development planning now than there was in the past, despite the varied effects of the gendered approach to natural resource management and development. Here are a few illustrations of this encouraging trend.


The Kudumbashree programme was established by the Keralan government in 1998 with the goal of eradicating absolute poverty from the state through coordinated neighbourhood efforts led by Local Self-Governments. One of India's major projects for the empowerment of women today is Kudumbashree. More than half of Kerala's households are covered by the programme, which has 41 lakh members. The Kudumbashree initiative, which is based on the three crucial pillars of credit, entrepreneurship, and empowerment, has been successful in meeting the basic requirements of underprivileged women and giving them a more respectable life and a better future. Kudumbashree's literal meaning is "prosperity of family" (Shree) (Kudumbam). Women's economic empowerment and overall empowerment are closely related. Through these self-help organisations, women engage in activities for income production and microcredit as well as a variety of other topics like agriculture, health, and nutrition.

Government representatives network to attract women to the Grama Sabhas and assist them in calling the local governments' attention to the concerns of the underprivileged. The Community Development Societies play key roles in development activities ranging from socioeconomic surveys and enterprise development to community management and social audit. They are also quite engaged in government programmes.

Kudumbashree was crucial in the organisation, planning, and execution of Kerala's MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme). The women preferred to work together as a group rather than alone. They not only learned new skills as a result of their participation in these activities. They acquired the skills necessary to construct livestock barns, farm bunds, soak pits, and home basements. They also took part in activities linked to water conservation and land development. The Kudumbashree women worked on pond construction, well construction, river restoration, and afforestation projects. As a result of the procedure, the women acquired new skills, made income, and eventually achieved financial independence.

Tribal women groups

Since agriculture in Odisha's tribal regions primarily rain-fed, non-timber forest products are an important source of income for the locals. The Forest Department is required by law to carefully regulate the trade in NTFPs, and even activities used for basic subsistence are now prohibited. With the assistance of Agragamee, a nearby NGO that had been working to empower tribal communities for close to 30 years, tribal women in Kashipur (Rayagada district) banded together. In the past, they would gather grass and construct brooms to sell in the marketplace. However, they received extremely poor prices from traders, and forest officials frequently harassed them.

The shift started when Mahila Mandals, or women's organisations, were established at the Panchayat level. These meetings provided a forum for the women to share their issues and worries while also learning about their rights and privileges. They chose to fight the government after gaining new information gave them a voice. No one was afraid of the outcomes of these conflicts because they were all working together on this project. Finally, the Mahila Mandals came together to create the Ama Sangathan, a block-level organisation. Threats of arrest were made in connection with fictitious cases involving the stocking of brooms that the Forest Department had deemed prohibited. Even their whole stockpiles were confiscated from the women. They eventually met with the state chief minister at the time to present their case. The Chief Minister declared the denationalisation of 60 NTFP products, including brooms, in 2000. The dominance of middlemen over local trade was removed by this change in policy. Additionally, the negotiating power of the populace has increased.

Agragamee also intervened, demonstrating to the women how to raise the calibre of their goods in order to increase marketability. In the past, they would simply bind the coarse grass together. But with some basic instruction, they discovered how to thoroughly clean the stalks and bind them. As a result, broom prices rose by 300 percent, making broom-manufacturing a competitive alternative to working as a slave for contractors.

The Forest Rights Act of 2006 encourages community rights over forest resources, providing various chances for women's groups to obtain a living.

Fisherwomen cooperatives

Fisherwomen play a part in coastal fisheries. Commercialization of fishing, loss of common places, and changing coastlines owing to development endanger fisherwomen's livelihoods. Tamilnadu, Maharashtra, and Karnataka have fisherwomen cooperatives. Fisherwomen's cooperatives in Tamil Nadu provided short-term loans. Borrowers oversaw loan approval and repayment with support from local officials. The fisherwomen were no longer at the mercy of moneylenders and were proud of their decision-making position. Due to the scent of the fish, public transportation was often refused to them. Private transporters overcharged them. MATSYAFED in Kerala and cooperatives in Ratnagiri and Thane have established buses for fisherwomen. Cooperatives have benefited several women's welfare programmes. They also make coastal ecological and livelihood-related policies. Odisha and West Bengal are also exploring aquaculture opportunities for women. In some communities, women tend backyard ponds. Fish ponds provide families with a regular food supply and nutritional security. Local demand for seafood also provides income. Many trained women in Kerala have organised societies for making fish wafers, pickles, cutlets, and dried fish. Some societies promote their own products, while others work with Fisherwomen cooperatives and Kerala Fisheries Corporation.

Hill farmers in Himalaya

Uttarakhand, a state in the Himalayas, has relatively limited market access. To give women an equal, effective, and active means to participate in the development process, a cooperative focused on women was established in Chamoli in 2009. The cooperative is set up so that women have access to a variety of employment options. Green tea, jam, marmalade, squash, chutney, pickles, and spices are among the products that the cooperative manufactures using specialised machinery. They oversee the entire process from harvest to packaging and use only the freshest ingredients in their goods. Both marketing and production are actively occupied by women. As a result, income levels have increased, and women's social position and capacity have both increased. The examples provided here demonstrate the variety of methods in which women can take charge of the management of natural resources and enhance chances for livelihood, ultimately resulting in societal development. The different initiatives in various regions of India demonstrate how a gendered approach to development aids in improving women's lives as well as the lives of their communities and the sustainable use of natural resources.


  1. Moser, C (1993). Gender Planning and Development Theory: Practice and Training. New York: Routledge. 
  2. Kabeer, N (1994). ―Gender-Aware Policy and Planning: A Social Relations Perspective‖, in Macdonald, M (ed.), Gender Planning in Development Agencies, Meeting the Challenge. UK and Ireland: Oxfam. 
  3. Ostergaard, L (1992). Gender and Development. Commission of the European Communities, London: Routledge. 
  4. Report of Integrating Attention to Gender in Development Programme on Gender- Sensitive Planning, Organized by USAID/RDMA, August-September, 2010


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