Rooting out inequalities: Women’s participation in forest management in conflict-affected areas of Karen state in Myanmar [EN/MY]


Executive summary

Forests are a critical resource for people in Myanmar, in particular for ethnic minorities such as the Karen people. Neglecting forest management in conflict-affected areas can increase conflict risks and carry adverse social and environmental impacts.

Research conducted by International Alert and the Kaw Lah Foundation identifies the subnational local governance level as an arena for opportunities to build trust around joint priorities at the grassroots and village tract level across conflict lines. While the Myanmar union-level peace process is stalled, forest management can be used as a powerful local peacebuilding entry point. This entry point offers the opportunity to recognise the rights, practices and governance responsibility of ethnic minorities in a potential future democratic federal union

This report builds on previous research, exploring the key role gender plays in opportunities for peacebuilding. The report takes a critical look at the gender and power dynamics around forest management and shines a light on the role women play. Women’s participation in forest use, forest management and forest governance is shaped by gender norms and representation. Gender shapes the differences in the social expectations surrounding women and men. It influences how and why conflict turns violent, and how violence is perpetrated. Projects that do not engage women will overlook perspectives and experiences that impact the effectiveness of a project. Taking only a number-counting approach to the participation of women in meetings and trainings is, however, insufficient.

It is a right of women to participate in decisions that affect their lives, from local governance to security and environmental issues. Women have a vital role to play in peacebuilding at all levels. Evidence demonstrates that the direct participation of women in negotiations is more likely to lead to successful peace agreements. Their meaningful participation increases the likelihood of the successful implementation of peace agreements. Conversely, the exclusion of women and their concerns pose conflict risks because exclusive agreements are less likely to cover all the issues over which there is conflict, and are therefore more likely to relapse into violence. Bringing a gender analysis to forest management offers a unique opening for an inclusive gender-transformative approach that is conducive to building sustainable positive peace. It is vital that this information reaches both male stakeholders and gatekeepers to the same extent as it does female stakeholders, as otherwise sustainable social transformation is unlikely to be achieved.

Myanmar has been marked by decades of internal conflict and a long period of military regime and isolation before the military government allowed a gradual opening and transition to a quasi-democracy in 2008. This transition remains partial, however, and multiple conflicts in different parts of the country are still evolving on varied trajectories. This research focuses on Karen areas in southeast Myanmar. After decades of armed conflict and widespread displacement amidst reports of human rights abuses, Karen state has experienced a gradual stabilisation since a ceasefire between the government and the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (KNU/KNLA) was signed in 2012.