Liberia: FCI Boss Highlights Successes, Challenges of Women in Forestry Sector

Monrovia — Following many years of workings and engagements in the forest sector, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI) has outlined many success stories and challenges confronting women's role in the management of the forest, especially in forestry governance structures.

FCI was founded in 2004 as a community-based organization in Grand Bassa County, by a group of trained development workers and human rights activists trained by Development Education Network - Liberia (DEN-L).

Basically, FCI was founded to institutionalize women in leadership position at all levels and showcase women's ingenuity in building and leading an indigenous women institution that is focused on Women Empowerment, Peace Building, Conflict Resolution and Leadership and Governance Issues, especially in the Natural Resource Management (NRM) Sector.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with this paper at the weekend in Monrovia, Executive Director Madam Loretta Alethea Pope Kai said one of the biggest successes scored by organization so far over the last five to six years' period has been the increased number of women's participation into forest governance issues.

According to her, due to the work of FCI over the years with different women groups at different community forests, there has been increased women's involvement into the discussions and decision making processes of their forest resources.

"Over the years we have been working closely with the National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC) and National Union of Community Forest Management Body (NUCFMB) to strengthen women's leadership in these various governance institutions. Some of the ways we have been supporting is by building their capacities on the different laws such as the National Forestry Reform Law of 2009 and the Community Rights Law and Regulation of 2017," said Madam Pope Kai.

"At the level of the Community Forest Development Committee (CFDC) from 2015 to now, we see some acceleration or interest of women growing by the day - they have increased in numbers due to the numerous trainings we have provided over the years," she stated.

"So, one of the successes we can give is that women are not just sitting around the palaver hut and just observing men making decision about their natural resources. We now have women who are participating into elections in the community, and we have women who are serving some positions, even though not enough. But at least we can say that there are lots of women into decision making positions in the forest sector to ensure how our resources are governed and managed. We now have women as Vice President for Operations at community assemblies," the FCI boss continued.

But on the heel of these success stories, Madam Pope Kai said there are also numerous challenges as women's participation into forest governance in some communities remains a taboo due to cultural beliefs.

She indicated that there are still some quarters where certain group of people still believes that only men are supposed to make decisions or sit around the table for major discussions.

"We have some women in some communities that don't attend these functions because the places where these meetings are held are only meant for men. They are held in places that are forbidden for women to enter - it might be at some traditional function or at area where only men are allowed," she explained.

However, in a bid to erase this, the FCI boss asserted that her organization has embarked on the process of educating some traditional leaders and men to change their mindset.

"This is happening because they don't have the rightful information. We are giving them the real information because when they are educated they will readjust from that kind of thinking," she furthered.

Madam Pope Kai narrated that one of the major challenges has been the women's own understanding about forest governance issue, that one needs to be lettered before he/she participates into discussions around forest management issues.

"We find out that most women don't want to participate because they think participating into these governance structures you have to be educated. Their understanding about education is that you must know how to read and write, and so we are trying to erase that notion; that fear so that they can know that you can participate even if you are not educated. It's not by you reading or writing, it's about the idea that you bring to the table," she stated.

Speaking on the upcoming election of the Community Forest Development Committee (CFDC), the Liberian forest sector advocate disclosed that FCI has been working with the National Union of Community Forest Development Community (NUCFDC) to catalogue the number of women participants so as to provide training and mentorship for them to better equip them for the process.

"After the training, we will provide further refresher training for them and provide mentorship that will lead them into the elections. And after the electoral process, we will do an analysis of the entire process to know how many women participated and how many were elected," added Madam Pope Kai.

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