The importance of women in natural resources management

A study among the hill women in Uttarakhand found that they showed a high inclination to participate in water and forest management programmes through Informal communities.
Hill women and natural resources management (Source: India Water Portal)
Hill women and natural resources management (Source: India Water Portal)

Although the state of Uttarakhand is rich in water and forest resources, its watersheds are under threat of wasting and erosion due to decreased forest cover, faulty agricultural practices, hydrologic imbalances and natural calamities. The growing population is further increasing the pressure on natural resources.

The important role of women in natural resource management

The paper titled ' Women and natural resource management: A study of ‘Communities Of Practice’ prevailing In women farmer's community for management of water and forests of lesser Himalayan region in India' published in the International Journal of Advanced Research, states that women are the backbone of the farming system of the Uttarakhand hills, but are often the ones who suffer more from the adverse effects of pollution and environmental degradation. Deforestation, monoculture practices in agriculture, loss of groundwater, flooding, landslides and destruction of biomass have worsened the situation of the women in the state and increased their workload.

It is increasingly being recognised that women can play a key role in natural resources management as they have the knowledge and experience gained from working closely with their environment, and their analytical skills in their community can play a vital role in developing water and forest resources in a sustainable manner.

Communities of practice among the hill women

The paper describes the case of involvement of the hill women in water and forest management in the lesser Himalayan region of Nainital District and provides insights into the characteristics of Communities of Practice (CoPs) prevailing among them.

CoPs implies a process of collective learning that communities staying in a common area practice something that they are interested in or concerned about. The people learn how to do it better gradually by interacting regularly through building relationships. Through these sustained interactions, a shared collection of resources such as experiences, stories, tools, and ways of addressing recurring problems are gradually developed. The study aimed at exploring the type, level and attitude of participation and the sense of belongingness of the hill women towards their communities engaged in water and forest management programmes.

Findings of the study

  • The women participated in both formal and informal village communities. However, participation in informal communities was highest (100%) on the occasion of marriages followed by religious ceremonies (94%). This high percentage of participation in informal communities could be due to high levels of peripheral memberships among the women. The highest number of respondents (55.33%) were peripheral members compared to core or active members.
  • Most of the respondents (68%) had an average sense of belonging to the water and forest management activities of the community, which can be indicative of the connectivity among the members. The women in the study area considered participation in programme planning and programme maintenance as highly important.
  • The nature of participation as reported by the respondents most often involved “having informal meetings, fun and non-work-related activities” followed by “interacting and communicating with fellow community members”, “hearing about new knowledge and sharing experiences from other community members”, and “making useful contacts /networking”. The least important nature of participation was “the judicious management of water and forest resources” and “improving the level of expertise of the members”. However, knowledge work activity was also of much relevance to the community and the need to generate new ideas and better knowledge was a reason for many women to participate. The respondents also gave importance to “advising or helping other members”.
  • Camaraderie and togetherness were important components of CoPs.

The paper ends by arguing that CoPs can be a critical element for successful management of natural resources in fragile eco-systems such as the lesser Himalayan region. The synergy between CoPs and people's participation in natural resource management can be of great help for attaining rural sustainability. Hill women's knowledge can play an important role in rebuilding the rural communities who are facing the ill effects of depletion of natural resources.