2014-2016 Kleinhans Fellow: Amanda Kaeser

Attitudes and Barriers to Women’s Participation in Community-Based Conservation Programs in Belize

Forests in Belize are being degraded by the illegal logging of mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) and cedar (Cedrela odorata), which not only reduces the habitat for the many endangered, threatened and endemic species, but also reduces the carbon sequestration capacity of the forest. Additionally, there is rampant poaching of wildlife for the exotic pet trade and local consumption. Xaté palm (Chamaedorea) is also illegally harvested for sale in the international floriculture industry. To address these issues, communities bordering the Vaca Forest Reserve (the Vaca) in western Belize have created a community-based conservation program called the Friends of the Vaca Forest Reserve. Their conservation strategy to deter illegal activities is to increase community presence in the reserve, and conduct sustainable harvest and production activities to empower local forest management. This group is currently practicing apiculture, sustainable farming, reforestation, composting and other soil conservation techniques within the reserve borders. However, many barriers to community involvement still persist in the Vaca, specifically with regard to women’s participation. Friends of the Vaca leaders are actively seeking means to engage women in the program and to increase the presence of people in the reserve. This research project explores opportunities, barriers and attitudes towards women’s participation in community-based conservation activities to ultimately recommend a program to engage women in conservation activities near the Vaca.

Project Objectives

  • Identify the attitudes, subjective norms and barriers to the participation of women in the community-based conservation efforts in the area. This will be done using a mixed method approach that initially uses qualitative interviews to better understand the communities’ attitudes toward the forest and a possible community-based conservation program that targets the inclusion of women. Interviews will be followed by a quantitative survey to determine women’s attitudes toward and intent to participate in such a program.
  • Together with local collaborators and stakeholders, design and implement a conservation program for women based on the results of interviews, surveys and economic assessments. This phase will be driven by the needs, interests and skills of the participating women, with support from the researcher.
  • Based on study results and experience working with communities in Belize, create recommendations on how to increase female participation in forest enterprises and community-based conservation. These recommendations will be shared through in-person workshops with communities in Belize and over the border, in Guatemala, as well as on the Rainforest Alliance website.
Forest canopy - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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