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Dry forests special: Men, women and the power of food

Gambia - When aid groups began encouraging women in the Gambia to plant gardens in the 1980s, the nutritional quality of household meals wasn’t the only thing that improved. The status of the women was also enhanced in their male-dominated communities. Slowly, women earned rights to land and economic benefits, and began to negotiate more with their husbands, reducing conflict within the household. Several years later, new groups came in and asked the residents of the community to plant trees. They worked mostly with the men, says Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) senior associate Carol Colfer, referring to 1999 research.

As a result, women lost the rights and status they had previously gained, and household conflicts increased again. “Gender dynamics can be really affected by outside actors coming in,” Colfer says. “That kind of thing happens a lot with forestry projects.” How gender dynamics are at play in communities living in and near dry forests – defined as forests that get less than 1 meter (3.3 feet) of rain each year – was the subject of a recent article published in a special edition of International Forestry Review. For the study, which was a review of existing literature, Colfer and her colleagues examined 130 academic studies, as well as book chapters and other resources, looking at the ways men and women live in dry forests.