Beyond membership of the NTWG, the VPA process opened up other opportunities for women to take part and have their say. “A significant percentage of participants have been women,” says Singh. “This is true at a community level, where women have been very active, and also at an agency level, where women have engaged deeply. At every level we see women being present and playing key roles: administratively, at a decision-making level, working on the ground.”
The VPA negotiations coincided with a shift in gender roles in Guyana’s forest sector. “There are more women logging, operating machinery,” says Simone Beckles, Assistant Commissioner at the Guyana Revenue Authority. “Women’s participation is expanding.”
Ten years ago, it was different, says Pradeepa Bholanath, Head of the Planning and Development Division at the Guyana Forestry Commission. “We had a predominance of large-scale operators with few women involved. Women now have greater prominence because of their larger role in community-based initiatives. They are involved in production, in exports… Our presence is becoming more and more mainstream.”
The numbers are impressive. Half a million hectares of forest have been allocated to community forestry initiatives that are predominantly under the leadership of women loggers, according to Jocelyn Dow, Chairwoman of the Board of the Guyana Forestry Commission. She says that of those employed in community forestry, 45% are women.
“I’d like women to be involved and I would like them to have decision making power,” she says. “In my own business, over half are women, and that includes things like the use of machinery. The forest is hard so they need to be quite adventurous. But if they choose to, they can do anything.”