Tree Plantations Impact Doubly on Women
The invisibility of women is perhaps nowhere greater than in timber
plantations. Few women are ever seen working within the endless rows of
eucalyptus or pine trees. But plantations are very visible to women,
who are in fact greatly impacted by them in different ways.
No wonder then that one of the first documented demonstrations against
monoculture tree plantations was led by women. This happened in August
1983 in Karnataka, India, when a large group of women and small
peasants of the Barha and Holahalli villages marched on the local eucalyptus
nursery. The women protested the commercial eucalyptus trees as being
destructive to the water, soil and food systems. They pulled out
millions of eucalyptus seedlings and planted tamarind and mango seeds in place.
They were all arrested, but their action became a symbol of a struggle
that continues today.
In forest-dependent communities, women have no doubt that plantations
are not forests, because the former do not provide them with any of the
non-timber forest products provided by the latter, particularly food,
fuel, material for handicrafts, resources used for housing, household
items and medicines. Additionally, they deplete the water resources
they depend on. Large-scale tree plantations result in:
- Food scarcity. Women are traditional collectors of different types of
food found in forests, such as vegetables, fruit, mushrooms and many
other edible products. As forests are cleared to give way to plantations,
food is no longer available and women find it much harder to collect the
necessary food resources.
- Firewood scarcity. Although there is plenty of wood in plantations,
collection of firewood by local people is severely restricted in most
cases, thereby increasing the hours spent by women in distant forests
to collect less wood than before .
- Water scarcity. Fast-growing tree plantations (eucalyptus, pines,
acacia) require large amounts of water and can cause the depletion of
water resources for consumption and agriculture. As a result, women
spend many more hours a day carrying water, thus resulting in added work
burdens for women.
- Medicine scarcity. Forests provide a broad array of medicinal plants,
which are usually collected by women. These plants disappear after the
plantations are put in place, thus increasing the time spent by women
in collecting such plants at longer distances.
Even in the few cases where plantations provide women with some
employment opportunities, not only do they not compensate for losses such as those
mentioned above, but they add new problems to women's livelihoods.
In Brazil, for instance, in the state of Minas Gerais, women are hired
to carry out a number of activities on a par with men -except logging
which is a masculine activity par excellence. Hiring of women workers is
based on their greater aptitude to carry out certain tasks, such as growing
plants in nurseries, which requires greater dexterity. In some cases
too, women are entrusted with the application of ant-killers to the land
planted with eucalyptus. It must be said, however, that in some cases
female labour simply becomes a form of direct incorporation of cheap
labour, contributing to lower the salaries of men workers. Because, as
usual, women's salaries are lower than men's for equal types of work.
The labour conditions of women workers have much in common with those
of men -low salaries, bad working and living conditions, seasonal work,
outsourcing- but some degree of differentiation may be established with
relation to their work in tree nurseries. In the nurseries of two large
forestry companies in Minas Gerais, a large quantity of reiterated
injuries caused by making great efforts have been observed, in spite of
which women continue to work, many of them with swollen or bandaged
hands. They also suffer from rheumatic diseases, probably caused by their
constant exposure to cold water in the nurseries and to a generally
cold environment in the wintertime.
As the vast majority of plantation companies, those of Minas Gerais
have no specific gender policies, which is detrimental to women and their
children. As there are no day-care centres near the place of work, it
is almost impossible for women to breastfeed their babies after their
maternity leave, thus increasing malnutrition. They usually leave their
homes at 5:30 in the morning and return late in the afternoon, having
to return home in the company transport, which takes an hour or more as it
goes around, picking up all the workers at the plantations. Many women
workers do not receive medical care and they are even made to feel
guilty for work-related accidents or diseases. Furthermore, they are afraid to
complain because they fear loosing their jobs or not receiving the
basic food basket that the Collective Agreement ensures them and that they
count on for their family's basic food.
In sum, the substitution of local ecosystems by monoculture tree
plantations result in impacts on local people by eliminating most of
the goods and services previously available and impacting more on women
through an increase in their work burden and a reduction in the amount
of resources collected. At the same time, the scarce jobs provided to
women by plantation companies do not compensate for those losses, while
adding new problems to their health and livelihoods.
Article based on information from: Shiva, Vandana.- "Staying Alive:
Women, Ecology and Survival in India", Zed Books, 1989; "Seeing the Forest for
the People, a Handbook on Gender, Forestry and Rural Livelihoods",
Vanessa Griffen, APDC (Asian and Pacific Development Centre), 2001; "Certifying
the Uncertifiable. FSC Certification of Tree Plantations in Thailand
and Brazil", WRM, August 2003; and information provided by Rosa Roldán,