Rule making in community forestry institutions: The difference women make

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Forest use rules determine what products are extracted from community governed forests, in what quantity, by what methods, and by whom. The nature of rules and the process by which they are formulated (e.g. who participates in formulating them) can impinge critically on institutional sustainability (given their potential impact on the commitment and incentive to protect), and on equity and conservation outcomes. This is well recognized in the substantial literature on institutions governing common pool resources (CPRs). It is also well recognized, although in relation to other types of institutions, such as legislatures and village councils, that there can be notable differences in women's and men's policy priorities. Yet there is surprisingly little existing work on, or statistical testing of, potential gender differences in rule making in institutions managing natural resources such as forests. This paper, based on the author's primary data for India and Nepal, seeks to fill this conceptual and empirical gap. It examines why we might expect women to favour different rules from men, and statistically tests whether the gender composition of the executive committees (ECs)-the main decision-making bodies of community forestry institutions (CFIs) in South Asia-makes a difference to the strictness of forest use rules. This is analyzed both by specifying a strictness index which aggregates rules across products and by examining rules for selected products, and both for all sample districts together and for each district separately. Gender is found to make a significant difference to the rules specified but not always in the expected direction. Given their substantial and daily dependence on local forests, especially for firewood and fodder, rural women may normally be expected to veer toward lenient rules of extraction. In fact, groups with more EC women and especially with all-women ECs tend to make stricter rules than other groups in most of the sample districts, except one district where they tend to make less strict rules. Greater strictness is attributable especially to the resource constraint faced by all-women groups (ie. CFIs with all-women ECs) which receive smaller and more degraded forests than groups with men. Less strict rules among CFIs in the exceptional district are attributable especially to the disproportionate presence of landless women on their ECs. In other words, not simply women's presence in rule making but also their economic class can matter. Strictness also varies by type of product, forest and population characteristics, the EC's average age and dominant caste, and monitoring constraints. The potential implications for equity, institutional sustainability and forest conservation are also discussed. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2296-2308
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Economics
Issue number8-9
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2009


  • Community forestry institutions
  • Gender composition
  • Rule making
  • South Asia

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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