The Access Initiative

Q&A with Cécile Ndjebet: Empowering Women Is Key to Better Forest Management in Cameroon

By Stephanie Ratté (March 12, 2015) 

Roughly 70 percent of women in Cameroon live in rural areas, relying at least in part on natural resources like forests for their livelihoods. However, women often face particular challenges in accessing the forests they need. Differences in the ways men and women understand and use forests mean natural resource policies can result in significant gender-differentiated impacts that oftentimes put women at a disadvantage. Women’s lack of secure access to forests can lead to a variety of inequities, including limited decision-making power; more vulnerability for women who are unmarried, divorced, or widowed; and greater likelihood that forest conservation schemes like REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) will not benefit women and men equally. As new programs seek to tackle deforestation in Cameroon, it’s imperative that these initiatives are not blind to gender differences in forest use and access. Cécile Ndjebet, a partner of WRI’s Governance of Forests Initiative, is a leading voice on gender and forest governance, both in Cameroon and internationally. Ndjebet serves as the director of civil society group Cameroon Ecology, coordinates the National Civil Society Organization Platform on REDD and Climate Change and heads the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests (Réseau des Femmes Africaines pour la Gestion Communautaire des Forêts or REFACOF). I recently caught up with her to talk about the challenges rural, forest-dependent women face in Cameroon, as well as solutions for overcoming these problems.

1. Why is it important for women to have secure access to forests in Cameroon? When women have clear and secure rights to forest land and resources, they are more likely to be able to access credit and technical assistance, manage resources sustainably, and are less dependent on marriage for security. Research on the link between gender and natural resource management demonstrates the critical and positive role that women can play in achieving environmental and development goals. In Nepal and India, for example, studies demonstrate that greater participation of women in forest management and decision-making processes at the community level are associated with better forest conservation.

2. What are the main challenges you face in your work? One is building the capacity of the government and other groups to recognize the importance of gender equality. I recently attended a workshop in Brazzaville and realized that people rarely understand why gender is important to consider in forest and natural resource management. Awareness is being raised now because of initiatives like REDD+. But we also need the political will of governments, greater capacity of civil society organizations and more resources for effective advocacy.

3. How can REDD+ help bring greater gender equity to natural resource governance in Cameroon? The government of Cameroon began developing its national REDD+ strategy in June of 2014 in order guide the implementation of incentives for the sustainable management of forests and the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. Cameroon Ecology is playing a key role. So far, the government is open to our participation, and we are working to gather real information from communities and villages so that the contributions of rural women and men can be inserted in the national REDD+ strategy. We also need to ensure that REDD+ programs implement safeguards to avoid creating or exacerbating gender inequalities. What I see in REDD+ is that it is a good opportunity. We don’t yet know exactly what we will get with carbon offsets, but the REDD+ process has created a more inclusive space for promoting the equitable management of resources. I always say to the communities: If REDD+ cannot bring the scale of resources we hope for, at least it can help strengthen participation and improve natural resource laws and regulations for rural men and women in Cameroon.

4. How is your organization working to build capacity to address gender-related challenges? We are conducting trainings with other NGOs on gender and REDD+. We have just finished three training sessions to help men and women understand how gender is important to natural resource management, especially in relation to climate change and REDD+. We have also developed a policy brief on women’s participation in Cameroon’s REDD+ experience. In Cameroon, we are also coordinating the National Civil Society Organization Platform on REDD and Climate Change, a venue where I have been able to influence how women participate in decision making. The platform was established in 2011 to enhance collaboration on REDD+ and climate change issues between civil society in Cameroon and the government. We now have women represented at local, district and national levels of the platform’s governance. We also succeeded in getting gender focal points in at least eight ministries dealing with natural resource management. But there is still progress that must be made. The important point is to ensure that women are not just present in meetings, but that they can actually influence decision-making processes. The work we’ve done is a starting point, but we need to increase awareness, capacity and resources. By strengthening women’s networks and partnering with men so they can be advocates for gender equality, we can make it clear that inequitable situations are not favorable for any kind of development.

5. How does access to information factor in? Information and communication are challenges. It can be difficult to reach rural communities in Cameroon because many of these areas lack electricity. In rural areas, most people—especially women—understand the local language, rather than French or English. If you want to be effective, you have to translate information into the local language, so we recognize that this can be a significant limiting factor in our work. Capacity to understand forest governance and gender issues is another barrier. We need to produce documents that are nontechnical, affordable and accessible. Within the REDD platform, we are building partnerships with rural radio stations and media at the district level. The advantage is that most of the villages do have access to radio. Next year, we intend to expand partnerships with rural radio programs to publish and transmit information to a larger audience.

Mapping Indigenous Natural Resources: There’s an App for That

Article by Grace Heusner, Yale Law School ’16  (Posted: November 24, 2014)

The Mbenjele Look for Answers

In the mid-2000s, the Mbendjele Yaka pygmies of northern Brazzaville-Congo faced a problem. Environmental conservation groups were accusing them of widespread poaching of elephants, gorillas, and other bushmeat. While the Mbendjele did engage in subsistence hunting, they suspected that larger organizations were responsible for the majority of poaching. Yet they had no way to prove it. The Mbendjele were largely illiterate and had only limited ways of communicating with the outside world. While the group previously had success with icon-based applications to battle illegal logging in their forests, the Mbendjele now needed something more versatile. Searching for answers, they approached, Dr. Jerome Lewis, a University College London researcher who had been working with pygmies in the Congo for many years.

The Development of Sapelli

This need prompted Dr. Lewis to develop Sapelli with his organization, Extreme Citizen Science (“ExCiteS”). Sapelli is an icon-based mobile phone application that can be used to record GPS coordinates. Users select appropriate icons that describe an action or occurrence and plot its specific location. The Mbendjele used the app to record evidence of illegal poaching. Because Sapelli is open source, it can be customized for a variety of scenarios.

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Meet our Host Organization of This Year’s TAI Global Gathering: Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad

By Carole Excell (Posted: August 14, 2014)

Mining and oil extraction projects in Colombia have been deemed of paramount importance due to the great potential to support needed economic development. By the end of the decade, mining is predicted to account for 13 percent of the country’s GDP. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities of Colombia, who constitute 30.5 percent of the country’s population, may face great risk and uncertainty over the next decade as large-scale mining projects expand at a rapid rate. Half of the country’s total forested land is located in Afro-Colombian or indigenous community territories. Such resource-rich areas are highly sought after by players in the extractive industry. Yet the incoming mining boom must not be prioritized to the determinant of Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities at a time when their input and involvement is most crucial. These are the issues that Asociacon Ambiente y Socieded (AAS), works on, a Bogota-based civil society organization which seeks to ensure effective people have a say in policies, processes, and decision-making related to environmental matters. AAS is a member of The Access Initiative (TAI) the world’s largest civil society network of advocates and thought leaders dedicated to ensuring that citizens have the right and ability to influence decisions about the natural resources that sustain their communities. Because of their work on important issues surrounding environmental governance in Colombia, TAI is thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with AAS on hosting the Global Gathering this year! AAS’ recent work includes analyzing the impacts of extractive industries on the collective rights of the territories and forests of peoples and communities, focusing on cases that deal with Afro-Colombian communities from the pacific region of the country. They strive to achieve effective implementation of rights to access to information, public participation, and access to justice within the following programmatic areas:

  • Climate Change: focus on community-based issues and strategies regarding mitigation and adaptation, including forest communities;
  • Citizenship: facilitate community members’ participation and access to information in local environmental matters;
  • Development Projects: observe impacts of development projects and policies while encouraging civil society participation at decision-making platforms;

Additionally, AAS research examines the strengths and weaknesses of the three access rights in Latin America. AAS is part of the Regional Coalition for Transparency and Participation for Colombia with five other organizations from Perú, Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil. Click here for more information. More on #TAI GG The Access Initiative’s Fifth Global Gathering will take place 29-31 October in Bogota, Colombia. This year’s Global Gathering is organized under an overarching theme of “Using Information, Data and Technology to Protect Forests and Strengthen the Rights of Forest-Dependent Communities”. Participants will be able to attend exciting sessions about using technology to improve forest governance and strengthen community rights, including new tools such as the Environmental Democracy Index and the Global Forest Watch. We will be examining such issues as can an increase in access to technology and information help strengthen the capacity of local people to effectively engage in key decision making forums? What tools and strategies could communities use to help monitor and manage local forest lost or gain? How can civil society organizations support these developments? To obtain more information about this global meeting, please contact: Carole Excell Project Director, The Access Initiative (