March was Women's History Month, and we at NFCFPA in Albania decided to dedicate our monthly newsletter “Live Green” to women and girls who have devoted their work and lives to making a difference for forests and the environment and for the people who live in them. These women and girls, who are leaders in both academic institutions and civil society, work hard every day for the empowerment and awareness of other women on the importance of protecting the environment.
The women who wrote articles for this month's newsletter all highlighted different aspects of women's relationships with the environment and forests in particular.
Valbona Ylli, a representative of the Livestock Entrepreneurs Association of Albania, focused on women's ownership and use rights of forests and land, highlighting that, in addition to the impact of tradition on women’s ownership of land, other factors also have a significant impact, such as lack of knowledge about the laws by women and also their tendency to follow traditions, thus enabling the continued economic dominance of men. Without property title, women are unable to get loans, are affected by uncertainty for investments, and lose out on opportunities for financial support, including government subsidy schemes.
AlmiraXhembulla, an adviser on gender issues at Connecting Natural Values with People Foundation, a legacy organisation of SNV Netherlands operating in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, emphasised the importance of addressing women's needs and promoting their contribution to rural development, while her colleague, Anila Karanxha wrote about women's participation in forestry activities, particularly in decision-making processes and women’s participation on the boards of Forests and Pastures Users Associations and Federations. A self-assessment survey of 26 Forests and Pastures Users Associations revealed that women do play leadership role in 12 of them, though women’s extensive contributions to forest activities remain largely unrecognised, and the mentality that a woman’s place is in the home persists.
BlerinaHoxha, a representative of the National Association of Private Owners in Kosovo, wrote about the challenges and potential of women in the forestry sector in Gjakova, Kosovo. The fourth of March, 2014 also marked the establishment of the Women's Section in Gjakova within the Association of Private Forest Owners. The primary challenges these women face is the lack of support from local and central institutions and the difficulty in raising awareness among rural women and their families on the role of women in the forestry sector and decision-making processes, as well as the legal enforcement of property rights. Yet, much potential exists for economic development through the cultivation of forest fruits and medicinal plants and the development of rural tourism, activities led by women.
Nazmije Bunjaku & Qendresa Berisha Beqiri from Kosovo shared their experiences of women from the "Park" section in Novoberde, who are engaged in supporting the implementation of a strategy to promote non-wood forest products. The women’s section in Novoberde (Gjilan district), was established in 2012 as part of the Association of Private Forest Owners, and counts the participation of many women, both Albanian and Serbian. The women’s section has its own executive board and chair.
Lindita Manga, a representative of the Albanian Local Capacity Development Foundation, highlighted women's participation in environmental innovations, especially concerning their role in improving the management of cross border areas. "If we want protected areas, developed rural tourism, big forests, clean water, healthy families, and economic prosperity, then let's believe more in women and give them more power, all together”, says Lindita.
These stories make us believe that Albanian society is changing and that the phrase "time has changed for women" is true. Today we have more women representatives in the central institutions, more educated women and girls, strong activists and women engaged in civil society organisations.
The progress and change that our society has undergone in recent years is not equal for men and women, whether in villages or cities. It is time to promote gender equality as well as fight inequality at all levels. And here I refer particularly to those women and girls in rural areas who have witnessed gender inequality in their family, local institutions and beyond.
It is time to recognise the indispensable role that women play in improving the lives of their family, food security and in contributing to poverty alleviation in rural areas. Women are often the main users of forests and natural resources, collectingfirewood and fodder for livestock. Women are forests custodians and play a crucial role in the education of the young generation for the use and protection of our forest resources.
NFCFPA sends a special thanks to all the collaborators and donors over the years as the Embassy of Sweden in Albania and Kosovo (SIDA), World Bank (WB), the International Land Coalition (ILC), and the organisation "Connecting Natural Values with People” (CNVP), who have consistently supported women and girls, especially in rural areas, to make a difference in their communities and to be an example and inspiration for many other women and girls.