How Tree Planting Engages and Empowers Women

There is a growing understanding that the issue of climate change cannot be handled in a vacuum while the world strives to solve it. For long, there wasn’t much noise about the socio-political dimensions of climate change, because its interpretation focused only on biophysical aspects. Issues like gender norms, gender pay gaps, and power imbalances were overlooked, which only served to accentuate them and exclude groups of the population even more. 

Vulnerable communities, in particular, are disproportionately affected by climate change. Women happen to be one of those vulnerable groups. Even if they contribute extraordinarily to restoration initiatives, existing social norms and secondary treatment ensure they don’t get the benefits of their labor.

Today’s discourse on restoration needs a reorientation of perspective. How might we put social equity, especially that of women, squarely in the center of discourse instead of on the fringes like in the past few decades? If 17 studies from around the world that dove into this subject are anything to go by, then we’d see massive improvements in conservation and natural resource governance at local, national, and global scales. 

Tree planting can empower women

Tree planting has long been hailed as one of the tried-and-tested fail-safes for averting climate change. When planted with care, they can contribute to bettering women’s rights and gender equality in both overt and covert ways.

1.    Tree planting brings women’s voices into the discussion

According to statistics, males are more likely to be interested in tree species that generate cash than women, who veer towards food- and medicine-producing species. They usually have ingrained expert knowledge about these trees, but are often silenced where it matters most. By attempting to strike a balance between the two, we’ll naturally be able to bring women to the table, and involve them in deciding which trees to plant, where, and at what frequency. 

2.    Tree planting gives women ownership over land 

Women do not inherit or own land in several nations across the world. Traditionally, males receive land inheritances. Planting trees gives women the ability to break the domination of male landowners and take an active role in caring for their families’ and communities’ property. For instance, women leaders in Papua New Guinea form organizations in their communities and receive practical training from forestry officials as well as instruction in conservation from the Papua New Guinea Research and Conservation Foundation. After that, the women construct their own nurseries, distribute trees, and/or plant them. Additionally, they present community education sessions on tree planting and native plant and animal protection.

3.    Tree planting provides jobs, income, and education opportunities

Reforestation can increase women’s income both directly and indirectly. Through collaboration with organizations like EcoMatcher, they have direct access to the revenue they generate and need to survive. Reforestation of their immediate region indirectly promotes higher biodiversity, which has long-term advantages for survival and subsistence (especially for foraging communities).

To be able to participate in reforestation activities, women often have to undergo training and environmental education, covering long-term tree care, sustainable farming and foraging practices, and the basics of running a business of their own. It’s also an excellent opportunity for youth because they can start early and become experts much sooner than their previous generations. This way, they increase their skillset and can contribute much more to the family income, and this happy cycle continues. 

4.    Tree planting can reduce forced migration into urban areas

The lack of jobs in rural areas can lead men to go searching for better opportunities in urban areas. Sometimes, they may go with families in tow, but in many communities around the world, the women stay back to look after the household and take over agricultural labor. This widens the gender gap and leaves women still vulnerable. It has been demonstrated that reforestation, especially sustainable agroforestry, lessens the need for rural residents to leave their homes in pursuit of opportunities in metropolitan areas. Women’s lives are immediately enhanced by reducing the amount of work they are forced to do. 

5.    Tree planting raises the collective sensibilities of the community

Wangari Maathai, a well-known social, environmental, and political activist and the first African to earn the Nobel Peace Prize, believed education was crucial to empower women and society. Raising internal hurdles to take part in tree planting and defending one’s rights requires education. Information is vital for women to understand their rights to take action since it gives them the capacity to demand what is rightfully theirs and avoid being exploited. 

When just a handful of women receive this education, they can pass it on to others in the community. This raises the resilience and independence of the community as a whole, which makes them less vulnerable to climate change and more hands-on in asking for what they need from the world. As Wangari Maathai said to British officers in the Kenyan forestry service, “We need millions of trees, and you foresters are too few; you’ll never produce them. So you need to make everyone foresters.” She added, “I call the women of the Green Belt Movement foresters without diplomas.”

Bonus: What women can bring to the tree planting initiative

When women are involved in conservation techniques and are given the knowledge and training to guide their efforts, they tend to make better judgments about managing natural resources. Men only reinvest 30–40% of their money back into their families and communities; women put a whopping 90% of it back. Additionally, research demonstrates that women are more likely to make judgments that advance the welfare of others and the public good since communal needs rather than individual wants typically drive their activities. Numerous on-the-ground restoration projects have demonstrated that including women in conservation efforts not only tackles gender inequity but also strengthens, sustains, and improves the projects’ quality. All this makes women empowerment a powerful socio-political initiative to support — one that saves people and the planet. It’s a sure win-win.

Reducing barriers to entry

The route to using tree planting to empower women is not an easy one. A report from the World Bank’s Program on Forests (PROFOR) provides insights into gender-responsive actions that forest projects, programs, and policies can consider. These include:

  • Developing performance-based agreements for the planting and upkeep of trees on farms with shared spouse signatures.
  • Enabling registration for initiatives relating to the forest in conveniently accessible locations where women already go, like schools, health centers, community centers
  • Giving direct payments to women (for instance, by cellphone) for initiatives like agroforestry and forest restoration

The final word

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change, but there is strong evidence that educating girls and empowering women is essential to influence climate action significantly. You can support a future that is fairer to vulnerable communities and rural parts of the world by becoming an EcoMatcher partner. When you plant a tree or adopt a forest with us, you support the livelihood of women farmers in Indonesia, Uganda, Guatemala, Thailand, Nepal, India, Ecuador, Kenya, Madagascar, Haiti, and more. You can help reverse climate change and, at the same time, combat gender imbalances so we may all advance towards a greener future, together!