Happy International Women's Day!
This year for International Women’s Day, the U.S. Forest Service International Programs is highlighting our partnership with the African Women’s Network for Sustainable Development (REFADD) in the Republic of the Congo. REFADD is a network of non-governmental organizations working on the sustainable management of natural resources in Central Africa. As part of this work they are involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring of conservation and development projects in Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda.
The Plateaux Department is an important ecological area in the Republic of the Congo, home to elephants, buffalo, chimpanzees and several monkey species. Uncontrolled fires are a threat to the unique flora and fauna of this area, as well as to the communities who call this place home. Video by Eva McNamara, U.S. Forest Service International Programs.
REFADD was created in 1996 as a way for women to be able to advocate for the rights of women within development initiatives. REFADD aims to better integrate gender issues into conservation and development policies, program, and projects, to advocate for women as important stakeholders in these processes, and promote gender equality through the empowerment of both women and men. They also work to close gender gaps in labor division as well as access to and control of services, resources, and benefits. They are committed to promoting gender equity by helping both men and women understand the important role that women play in the process of sustainable development.
Given their wide-ranging experience in the creation and execution of environmental and development programs, the U.S. Forest Service International Programs most recently requested their expertise in the process of drawing up a simple fire management plan in and around the Léfini Reserve, located 140 km north of Brazzaville. This fire management plan aims to reduce the number of uncontrolled burns in the area and was created with the input of local communities and government. REFADD successfully worked with communities to educate them about fire management and the creation of the plan, but also specifically worked with women in the area to help them understand their important role in these larger processes. Women are integral to successful fire management in this area as they often use fire to cook, farm, and hunt. REFADD encouraged these women to form cooperatives and associations to be better able to collectively voice concerns and ideas about how the conservation and protection of the Léfini Reserve should be managed.
Women in Central Africa play an integral role in successful fire management initiatives, and should be included in all parts of the management process. Photo courtesy of Olivia Freeman, U.S. Forest Service International Programs.
More broadly in the Republic of the Congo, REFADD continues to work towards their goal of women gaining equal participation in decision-making processes to facilitate the sustainable and diversified management of natural resources by 2025, as they believe that “equal participation in the sustainable management of natural resources contributes to the effective improvement of the living conditions of all populations in Central Africa”. Despite the challenges, REFADD continues to advocate for the rights of women in the country. Along with encouraging women to self-organize to be able to better voice their concerns, REFADD also promotes the participation of women-focused NGOs in sustainable development programs and policy development, supports capacity building initiatives, helps women’s groups to develop income-generating activities through cooperative entrepreneurship, and raises awareness of the critical role that women can play in the sustainable management of natural resources.
The Simplified Fire Management Plan for the Lefini Reserve was validated in Djambala in July 2018. REFADD encouraged local women to organize and be actively involved in the creation of the plan. Video courtesy of Eva McNamara, U.S. Forest Service International Programs.
The U.S. Forest Service International Programs is committed to promoting gender equity within our programs and believes the involvement of women in the process of creating and implementing development and conservation programs is integral to their success. USFS will continue to support and collaborate with groups like REFADD who are working towards a more equitable future for all.