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Thais Narciso, Regional Technical Advisor for Africa at UN Environment, Kenya.

 

What drives you to be involved in the forestry sector?

I work in this space because forests are the essence of life – food, water, climate regulation, etc. - and very little is known about their crucial role in underpinning economy, society, and culture in the planet. I come from a country where the drivers of growth depend on agricultural commodity production and are inextricably linked to deforestation. Reversing this unfortunate connection has always been incredibly important to me. Besides, few things make me as happy and serene as a long forest hike! While the policy work I do is slow and bound to show results in the long-term only, policy frameworks create space for government action. Making players with conflicting interests speak is a first step to conceiving viable solutions.

 

Why are forests important to you from your perspective as a woman?

On a philosophical sense, the essential elements of femininity – cyclical body processes marked by menstruation, the ability to generate and nurture life, sensitivity and intuition – very much reflect the natural processes that govern forest ecosystems. In many cultures, women hold the key to the medicinal values of forests and healing. On a more practical sense, household food security, nutrition, access to fuelwood energy are domains of women and underpin their relationship to forests in rural settings. Being a woman makes me aware of how hard it is to have women voices captured in decision-making processes. It also makes me conscious of how women participation is lacking in efforts to secure access to more resource-efficient practices in the forestry sector.

 

How can we ensure that there is more participation and leadership taken by women in the forestry sector?

I often work in urban policy circles in Africa and it is very hard to ask government counterparts to limit the number of male stakeholders in order to ensure more women come. These efforts tend to lead to junior women being sometimes invited, and they are often not empowered to shape debates. The structural reality is that men tend to manage policy processes in the forestry sector in Africa. However, there are many women influencing key discussions on natural resource management. These voices need to be identified, uplifted and amplified. These women must have a key role in local capacity-building. The ripple effect of such actions, even if long-term, can be huge. Identification and empowerment of woman leaders is very important.