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Year : 2008  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 62-73

Gender Inequality in Malidino Biodiversity Community-based Reserve, Senegal: Political Parties and the 'Village Approach'

Women's and Gender Studies Program, Clark University, Worcester, MA, 01610, USA

Correspondence Address:
Solange Bandiaky
Women's and Gender Studies Program, Clark University, Worcester, MA, 01610
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Date of Web Publication26-Jun-2009


This article illustrates how the use of village committees to manage natural resources in the Malidino Biodiversity Community-based Reserve was inconsistent with democratic decentralisation objectives. Ostensibly participatory projects that create village committees bestow discretionary power on traditional leaders who are not popularly accountable and have a poor track record of serving women's needs. This article interrogates how participatory approaches used in the Malidino reserve shaped the gender distribu­tion of outcomes in decision processes, access to forest resources and land, incomes and economic activi­ties, biodiversity conservation, and rural community empowerment and social change. It also shows how donor sponsored participatory approaches might exacerbate party politics, and through them, ethnic, kin­ship and gender cleavages by bestowing power and authority on actors belonging to a rival party and on actors with questionable democratic legitimacy. Both, the participatory parallel institutions and local governments, serve to undermine women's ability to collectively address their own interests.

Keywords: Senegal, gender, biodiversity conservation, village committees, participatory approach, elec-toral politics, decentralisation

How to cite this article:
Bandiaky S. Gender Inequality in Malidino Biodiversity Community-based Reserve, Senegal: Political Parties and the 'Village Approach'. Conservat Soc 2008;6:62-73

How to cite this URL:
Bandiaky S. Gender Inequality in Malidino Biodiversity Community-based Reserve, Senegal: Political Parties and the 'Village Approach'. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2008 [cited 2020 Jul 14];6:62-73. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2008/6/1/62/49202

   Introduction Top

MEN AND WOMEN have different relationships with insti­tutions-international organisations, central and local governments, and traditional authorities-and differential access to resources. In environmental project design and implementation, these gender differences and power rela­tions are inadequately addressed. While the strategies of intervening agencies rely on community participation in natural resource management, such approaches are insuf­ficient for ensuring gender equity. A host of other en­trenched locality specific practices shape gender-based distribution of voice and material benefits that participa­tory approaches alone fail to change.

While sensitive to local social dynamics, democratic decentralisation theorists (Carney 1995; Crook & Manor 1998; Ribot 1999; Smoke 2000) have failed to incorpo­rate gender as an analytical category into their investiga­tions. Yet, to understand the local social dynamics of inclusion and representation, it is essential to be aware of the position of men and women vis- d -vis formal and in­formal institutions at the local, national and international levels. Institutions-whether formal state, and global rules and regulations or informal social norms, and rela­tions of power and authority-serve as channels for ac­cess to resources (Berry 1989). Understanding how institutions work and for whose benefit (Robbins 1998) is important for a gendered questioning of power relations in natural resource management. Environmental problems too cannot be understood without taking into account the formal and informal institutions (Seager 1993) that may shape and reproduce relations of unequal power and au­thority (Rocheleau 1995; Rocheleau et al. 1996; Leach et al. 1997).

At a policy implementation level too, inequalities and inequities in the division of labour, power and resources between women and men in societies and between differ­ent groups of women within communities have received scant attention in democratic decentralisation, develop­ment and conservation programmes (exceptions are Agarwal 2000; Cornwall 2003; Goetz 2003; Goetz & Hassim 2003). In many project interventions, community differences end up simplified, power relationships poorly understood and gender conflicts avoided or ignored (Guijt & Shah 1998); this despite the deep rooted divisions and widespread lack of cohesion among class, gender, ethnicity and caste groups (Thomas-Slayter 1992; Agrawal & Gibson 1999; Brockington 2003).

In order to address this gap, some scholars are now calling for greater consideration of gender differences in interests, constraints and preferences in development and environmental conservation and for appropriate shifts in analytical methods. Henkel and Stirrat (2001) suggest that better tools are required for an analysis of the whole process of 'development', its discourses, institutions and practices, or the 'anthropology of development'. To bet­ter engage with cultural micro-politics of joint forest management, Sivaramakrishnan (2000: 448) calls for new 'ethnographies of state-making and political action [which] should focus on procedures that produce the state in contexts of participatory conservation'. Krishna (2003) suggests that there should be an analytical shift of par­ticipation downwards to the village level, allowing a bet­ter understanding of the processes through which class, ethnic and gender-based dimensions of marginalisation operate. It is time to move beyond the analysis of what occurs during 'participatory' meetings and beyond the use of women's participation in them as an indicator of genuine involvement and empowerment. The public par­ticipation of individuals is to be negotiated and mediated within households and communities, and shaped by pre­vailing social norms and structures (Cleaver 2001).

This is not to deny the importance of participatory venues for addressing gender imbalances in development and conservation contexts. Agarwal (2000) suggests that endowing women with bargaining power in community groups may bring about changes in rules, norms and per­ceptions, and may be key to creating a critical mass of women with stronger and more confident voices. Women 'would need to move from being absent or just nominal members to being interactive (empowered) participants' (Agarwal 2001: 1626). 'Engineered spaces of participa­tion' (Williams et al. 2003: 184) become necessary ven­ues whereby marginalised groups can articulate local preferences and opinions. These kinds of spaces can be used to challenge gender roles and promote women's view of public development needs and priorities.

While the above body of development scholarship has provided valuable insights into the impacts of externally driven development interventions on gender and socio­economic relations, many studies share an important omission. Scholars theorising the relationship among gender and participatory development (Mosse 1994; Mayoux 1995; Connell 1997; Guijt & Shah 1998; Lennie 1999; Cornwall 2003) have not addressed the gendered impacts of local politics. Agarwal (2001) approaches de­centralisation as an arena for participatory exclusion, but electoral and party politics as they relate to other struc­tures of potential exclusion and marginalisation of wom­en, do not receive extensive treatment in her work.

The impacts of political relationships in existing social networks as a form of politics are also seldom discussed in the participatory development literature (Williams et al. 2003). This is a surprising omission given the tension between the technocratic approaches of development practitioners and the advent of competitive politics ac­companying democratisation (Sivaramakrishnan 2000). In this context, participation can result in political co­optation; it can also mask continued centralisation in the name of decentralisation (Mosse 1994; Henkel & Stirrat 2001). Projects aimed at increasing public participation or 'decentralizing power' may end up excluding 'target populations' and strengthening elites and local power re­lationships that the planners may not even know exist (Hildyard et al. 2001). This article focuses on the dis­courses of participation at the micro-scale because it al­lows the perception of how power relations operate through local forms of political patronage (Williams et al. 2003). Natural resource management is shaped by social and political forces, state agencies in charge of forest management, the local elected actors and village commit­tees. A comprehensive examination of various institutions and their interactions-committees, elected bodies, social structures-and their combined effects on gender is needed.

Scholars differ as to which formal institution is better for good governance and local democracy, often taking an either-or institution focused perspective that neglects extant social structures that might impact upon these in­stitutions. 'Democratic' decentralisation scholars' favour elected local governments as arguably downwardly ac­countable and responsive to local citizens (Ribot 1995; Agarwal 2000; Smoke 2000). Those favouring participa­tory approaches involving other, including non-elected, actors argue that they can likewise significantly improve the outcomes of development programmes under certain circumstances (Esman & Uphoff 1984; Chambers et al. 1990; Krishna 2003).

A new trend in the development and environment dis­course is emerging moving from the dichotomy of local governments and community-based conservation to a stress on partnership between these various actors. Smoke (2003) discusses the important roles that community­based organisations and participatory mechanisms can play for making decentralisation effective. Krishna (2003) focuses on a more prominent collaborative partnership by showing the utility of both local governments and com­munity-based organisations as they work in partnership.

This article takes gender as an analytical category, ar­guing that both participatory parallel institutions (village committees) and local governments (the Rural Council and its councillors) function in ways that undermine women's ability to collectively address their interests. Senegalese rural communities are affected by both par­ticipation and decentralisation at the same time, and these processes affect and shape each other. In the case of Malidino, there is a combined effect of 'cultural construc­tion' and 'political action' (Sivaramakrishnan 2000) that determine men and women's participation and their rep­resentation in village committees and elected councils.

This article explores the relationship between the cate­gories of electoral politics, participatory development and conservation, and gender equity. How do institutional choices of village committees and electoral politics affect the gender distribution in decision-making processes? What processes shape gender distribution of voices and material benefits? The article finds that participatory ap­proaches and decentralisation are insufficient for ensuring greater gender equity and equality; moreover, they may be exacerbating extant cleavages.

The case study is based on extensive ethnographic re­search involving participant observation and interviews. The Malidino reserve is surrounded by ten villages; inter­views were carried out mostly in the Dialamakhan vil­lage, although additional research was also conducted in some neighbouring villages. Dialamakhan village was se­lected as a research site because the key individual desig­nated as contact official by the Forest Service and the president of the reserve are from Dialamakhan. The first reserve committees were also set up there. All the meet­ings and the general assemblies [1] of the ten villages, the Forest Service, the World Bank and the various imple­menting partners are also held in this village. Dialamak­han's traditional authorities, women's associations and rural councillors are all heavily involved in the manage­ment of the reserve.

   Politics of Choice and Recognition Top

The Malidino Biodiversity Community-based Reserve

Choice of Policy and Site

The Malidino Biodiversity Community-based Reserve is part of an Environment/Poverty-Alleviation Energy Pro­gramme (SPEM/PROGEDE [2] ) that was launched in Sene­gal in 1997 after similar programmes were implemented in Mali, Niger, Benin and Burkina Faso. The programme consists of two main components. The first is the Sus­tainable Woodfuels Supply Management Component, which entailed the implementation of a community-run forest management system in the periphery of the Ni­okolo Koba National Park (Malidino reserve is part of this component). The second is the Demand Management and Inter-fuel Substitution Options Component, which entailed the modernisation of the urban charcoal trade and the reduction of demand-side pressure on the wood­fuels supply system. The World Bank coordinates and manages funds for these projects. The Ministries of Envi­ronment, Industry and Energy, which appoint the Forest Service agents, are jointly responsible for the overall im­plementation of project activities in the field.

The Malidino reserve with an area of 10,059 ha is situ­ated in the periphery of the Niokolo Koba National Park.

The reserve is surrounded by ten villages with two main ethnic groups, the Pulaar and the Mandinka. The process of the creation of the reserve began in 1998; it was offi­cially recognised as a Biodiversity Community-based Re­serve in 2002. The Forest Service and the World Bank designated the Dialamakhan village as the reserve centre mostly due to its geographical location; it is nearly equi­distant from the other nine villages surrounding the re­serve. The reserve has two main objectives: biodiversity conservation and rural poverty alleviation through in­come-generating activities, and food and material distri­bution (PROGEDE 2002; World Bank 2005).

In pursuing its rural poverty alleviation objective, the World Bank and Forest Service make financial infusions and develop income-generating activities to enable the villagers to better conserve forestry resources inside the reserve. Food and seeds are donated during periods of acute shortage, such as the rainy season. Modern equip­ment for beekeeping and wildfire fighting is also distrib­uted among reserve managers. Income-generating activities relate to the cultivation of vegetable gardens, orchards, tree nurseries, and the collection and selling of fruit and forest products inside the reserve. The World Bank and the Forest Service also initiated the setting up of an animal park, an employment-generating tourist camp, and a new road [3] linking Dialamakhan to the other villages.

In 1996 accompanying decentralisation/regionalisation reforms, the government adopted the local communities law transfering functions to Local Collectivities compri­sing the Region, the Commune and Rural Communities. Natural resource management is one of the nine functions transfered to Local Collectivities. A Rural Community is an administrative agglomeration uniting many villages, which belong to the same territory and share common resources (RdS 1996a). [4] The ten villages surrounding the Malidino reserve are part of the Dialakoto Rural Comm­unity. It includes thirty-five villages and is situated in the periphery of the Niokolo Koba National Park, arron­dissement of Missirah, Department of Tambacounda.

The concept of Rural Council is often confused with that of Rural Community. The Rural Community refers to a geographic space while the Rural Council is the local government deliberative organ of the Rural Community that comprises rural councillors (men and women) elected for 5 years by universal suffrage and based on party list proportional representation. The Rural Council is the lowest level of local government and it is in charge of natural resource management and land allocation in the community. [5] It drafts a Local Development Plan and issues an opinion on all community development and environmental projects.

There is some confusion in the various stipulations as to which level of authority is vested with power to manage the reserve. The Guiding Principles drafted in December 2002 state that the reserve is 'under the institutional authority of the Rural Community, which transfers through deliberation its management authority to the villages on the periphery of the reserve'. However, in decentralisation laws there is no stipulation that the Rural Council should delegate power to the village. In the village itself, the de facto village head is a chief who is a hereditary figure and is not usually popularly elected.

Participatory Approaches and Choice of Actors

To better implement its objective of biodiversity conser­vation in the periphery of the Niokolo Koba National Park, the Forest Service was to work in partnership with the local populations. Its philosophy of local participation is summarised as a 'village approach' whereby the locals are responsible for managing the reserve. The villagers are to decide on leadership, the main actors and the rules based on their social organisation, hierarchy and beliefs. The Forest Service proposes the committee structure and framework, and drafts the Management Action Plan; however, it may not intervene in the process of leadership selection and rule-making. This policy is in line with Henkel and Stirrat's observation that 'by disowning the process they initiate, development agencies thus set themselves up as only 'facilitating'… to avoid the neces­sity for taking on responsibility for the outcomes of their interventions' (Henkel & Stirrat 2001: 183).

Indeed, at the outset of the project, a consultative ap­proach was adopted involving key stakeholders. The For­est Service and the World Bank conducted a series of national and regional participatory workshops between December 1995 and April 1996 to obtain feedback from representatives of civil society with respect to the overall project strategy. Women, youth and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were identified as key participants who were to play a fundamental role throughout the life of the project. A series of Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRAs) were also conducted aimed at obtaining the so­cio-economic and cultural information for preparing management plans specifically tailored to the local demographics. Special attention was paid to the identifi­cation of issues relevant to women, their training and ca­pacity building.

National consultants carried out a preliminary fact­finding mission in June 1998 in eight villages in the Tambacounda and Kolda regions. The plan was to meet local women's groups, NGOs and government officials to assess the needs of rural women and identify the best ways of ensuring gender sensitive project implementa­tion. Suzanne Roddis (2000), a World Bank consultant produced a pamphlet titled 'A working report for taking gender into account in the traditional energy sector' to bring the process of gender analysis into PROGEDE's implementation strategies. Social and environment im­pact assessment studies were also carried out throughout the lifetime of the project.

The participatory processes in Dialamakhan mainly consisted of forestry agents contacting village leaders, such as the village chief, the youth leader, 6 (subsequently reserve president and the village rural councillor), some other youth members, the notables, the Imam and male heads of households. During the meetings, the Forest Service agents discussed the reserve project and explained the expectations of local involvement in the protection of the forest through reforestation and conser­vation, while also enforcing the ban on tree cutting or ag­riculture activities. They also outlined the rural poverty alleviation objectives that were to be attained through improved resource management.

Given the reserve's 'common property' status, the For­est Service asked the people of Dialamakhan to form a socially all-encompassing group to manage it. The women's association, around for some 30 years and com­posed of all the married women in the village, the youth association, in place since 1992, and the village men then set up a special reserve association with open member­ship. After the community chose the association's leaders, the villagers laid out a formal list of objectives, status, rules and activities of the association. The document was then sent to the regional governor for approval. [7]

The Forest Service then initiated the setting up of Vil­lage Management Committees and identified the reserve objectives in a special Management Action Plan. The vil­lagers decided that members of these bodies would be chosen from amongst the villagers in line with the Vil­lage Management Committee structure that the Forest Service proposed. The Village Management Committees are the local institutions in charge of the reserve man­agement and enforcement of the relevant regulations. The structure of the committees is proposed by the Forest Service while the villagers chose their leaders and mem­bers.

The committees of the reserve management are:

1) Village Management and Development Committee (VMDC). The VMDC is to be the interlocutor between the villages and project structures (in particular PROGEDE) with respect to village level activities. The VMDC is composed of an executive board (president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer and account inspec­tors), and the forestry, farming and pastoral sub­committees.

2) The Surveillance Committee comprises mainly of youth and works closely with the VMDC forestry sub­committees to ensure that forest users respect charter rules.

3) The Wise-men Council comprises traditional authori­ties such as village chiefs, Imams or the spiritual guides and notables. It uses traditional forms of conflict man­agement.

Every village has a VMDC with a president, a Surveil­lance Committee and a Wise-men Council.

4) The Inter-villages Management Committee (IVMC) federates the different committees of the ten villages. It authorises the various forms of usage in the reserve, such as grazing and exploitation of non-timber forest products, and is the reserve's central decision-making body. It out­lines the reserve's policy guidelines and serves as an in­terlocutor between the villages and external partners, namely the Rural Council, PROGEDE and the World Bank. The reserve president is the coordinator of the IVMC and all the presidents of the VMDCs at the village level. The IVMC is the executive board composed of fourteen representatives from each village; Dialamakhan as the village centre has four representatives, one of whom is also the reserve president.

The Forest Service called on the locals to set up a man­agement charter with their own rules and regulations. The IVMC board held meetings to draft the charter. The char­ter states rules on the reserve administration and monitor­ing, conflict management, and wildfire prevention and alleviation. It was adopted in November 2002, was signed by all village chiefs, and ratified by the reserve president, the president of Dialakoto Rural Council and the Forest Service regional officer in Tambacounda. The charter sti­pulates that:

.….the IVMC board is the sole decision-maker of the reserve management… the Wise-men council decides on fines imposed on violators… In case the violator refuses to pay the fine he/she is first re­ferred to the Rural Council, which is the mediator, and if an amicable solution is not reached, the Forest Service invokes the provisions of the for­estry law against the violator.

Although the charter includes sanctions and prohibitions against the population, it does not include mechanisms for the populations to sanction the reserve leaders: tradi­tional authorities, political party leaders and notables.

Between 1998 and 2000 the implementation of the re­serve was mainly related to setting up the structure and composition of the committees in Dialamakhan as a pilot site. In 2002, the other nine villages surrounding the re­serve expressed a willingness to get involved in the man­agement and to enjoy access to the poverty alleviation supplies in the form of food, seeds, material supplies, vegetable gardens and orchard management. The same committee structures were to be set up in every village. All in all, ten villages opted to get involved.

In order to adopt the charter and reserve principles, three general assemblies were held in Dialamakhan with delegations from the ten villages. At the first meeting, delegates talked about the importance of sustainable re­sources management and agreed upon decision rules re­garding biodiversity conservation in the reserve manage­ment charter, as had been suggested by the Forest Service. The village delegations were asked to go back to their villages and inform the people about the principles and mechanisms of the reserve and secure their agree­ment to participate in the project. The second meeting fo­cused on feedback from the villages, the adoption of the charter and establishment of VMDCs for each village. During the third general assembly, village delegates in­volved in the management of the reserve were invited to swear on the Koran and do the 'Fatiya'-a ceremony held after Friday prayer-whereby people are invited to col­lective recitation of a verse of the Koran. In this particular case, the people were asked to swear to respect the char­ter and to never set wildfire. There is a strong popular be­lief that when you swear on the Koran you are bound by your own vows and if you disobey, bad luck will befall you.

The Forest Service agents involved in PROGEDE and the Rural Council members were always invited to the general assemblies as observers and facilitators; however, all decisions had to be taken by the villages. But as Mosse observes, projects influence the way in which people construct their needs, and 'project actors are not passive facilitators of local knowledge production and planning. They shape and direct these processes' (Mosse 2001: 19). The Forest Service, the reserve president and the reserve committee leaders urged the population to conserve the resources in exchange for a pledge to set up an animal park and a tourist camp on its territory, which would generate employment and improve livelihoods. The officials urged the local people to cease cultivation and abandon their fields inside the reserve.

Rationale for Choice of Village Committees

The Forest Service thus explained its choice of opting to work with the VMDC instead of the Rural Council, which by law should have been in charge of managing the re­serve (RdS 1996a, b, 1998). First, the politics of choice of the Forest Service and the World Bank is based on the 'village approach', which aims at popular inclusion in de­cision-making throughout the process, from the inception phase, to the actual management of the reserve. Commu­nity-based natural resource management is the Forest Service strategy aimed at building a new partnership with the locals residing on the outskirts of protected areas (Ri­bot 1995), and formerly locked in conflict with the Forest Service.

Second, the Forest Service claims that Rural Councils are driven by party politics and are more concerned with party matters and electoral votes than people's needs. Says one Forest Service agent:

The Rural Councilors are not any more legitimate than locally-appointed leaders, who are likewise chosen to represent all people. The Rural Council does not have the financial means to supervise and visit all the villages involved in reserve manage­ment activities. There are insufficient numbers of councilors to manage the resources: many villages have only one elected representative, while others have none.

This statement of a forester is instructive as electoral pol­itics in the locality are indeed perceived to be conflict and patronage ridden, and do little to advance social equity. Other, participatory approaches, however, are likewise no panacea against exclusion as the 'village approach' can reaffirm the power of traditional authorities. It does so by treating communities as if they were ungendered units and community participation as an unambiguous step to­ward enhanced equality (Agarwal 1997: 1374). As Cornwall (2003: 1329) reminds us, in the name of par­ticipation, the village social hierarchy is not being chal­lenged; rather, existing structures and dynamics of gendered power and exclusion are being reproduced.

The following sections demonstrate how both the vil­lage committees and rural electoral politics in the council have had unintended effects on gender equity and repre­sentation. Although the project is not specifically gen­dered in intention, it, together with the effects it has on local political dynamics, has a pronounced gender effect at the local level.

   Gendered Participation and Representation in Village Committees Top

This section analyses the dynamics of gendered participa­tion and representation in village committees focusing on women's membership, their participation in decision­making, how and whether they are consulted in framing the reserve rules and regulations, and their modes of par­ticipation in the relevant activities.

Membership in the village committees is in principle open to anyone as long as it meets some basic criteria es­tablished by the village community. A villager is desig­nated as a committee member or a leader when there is an agreement on that person being 'dynamic,' 'devoted to the village cause' and being generally an 'activist' type.

The very fact of membership openness, however, gen­erates opportunities to shape gender distribution of voices in ways that are influenced by traditional hierarchies, and social and political institutions. As Cleaver (2001) rightly argues, we need to interrogate the ostensibly participatory fora of socially embedded institutions. What we observe in practice is the nomination of committee members through manipulation, friendship, kinship, ethnicity and party political patronage.

Gendered Composition of Village Committees

The same individuals who hold leadership positions in village associations and social networks sit as decision makers on the reserve committees and have dual func­tions of committee members and leaders in the local so­cial hierarchies. The ex-officio members at the decision­making level are the village chiefs, the village spiritual guides or Imams, the traditional doctors, 'notables' and presidents of women's associations. All major existing power structures are therefore reproduced in reserve management. In the VMDCs village chiefs hold the reserve chairmanship and sub-committee leadership (Boutinot 2004). The IVMC is composed of representa­tives from each village; however, those representatives are traditional male leaders. Out of the fourteen members of the IVMC executive and decision-making board, there is only one woman, the president of a women's associa­tion appointed as treasurer. The VMDC in Dialamakhan has twenty members, including five women. The execu­tive committee is composed of two women and five men.

Generally, the women that one finds in the village committees hold positions that are secondary or marginal in importance. They tend to be leaders of women's asso­ciations confined to work in the sub-committees rather than the more powerful decision-making board. Further­more, the positions that women occupy on the committees are frequently only on paper. Personal interviews with female committee members suggest that women are often unaware of their supposed memberships on village com­mittees. These fictional positions are often created to satisfy donor requirements with respect to gender equality, and they do little to substantively improve women's involve­ment in key decision-making processes at a local level.

Increasingly, the village committees have become fora for addressing matters of concern to men rather than the broader citizenry. At the same time, the empowerment and the privileging of traditional authorities serve to fur­ther inhibit women's participation and representation. Contrast this problematic situation on the ground with the World Bank's upbeat project reporting statement:

PROGEDE recognized and promoted the role of women within the village structures, and provided substantive capacity development and revitalized all women's groups and associations. PROGEDE gender activities in fact resulted in some of the project most important social development impacts (World Bank 2005: 12).

Such a mismatch between local outcomes and World Bank reporting may not be so much representative of a well known donor impulse to sugar-coat project results (see Baviskar 2005), as it is of the actual faith in the pre­sumption that increasing the number of women in local management structures will promote gender equality. Un­fortunately, these misguided policies do little to address fundamental issues of unequal power. Cornwall (2003) rightly suggests that women's opportunities to influence decision-making in Village Management Committees will not come from a simple placement of women on the vari­ous committees, but will depend on how or whether women represent other women's interests, on whether women so empowered raise their voices and, when they do, whether there is a discernable effect on policy. In­creasing the number of women involved may serve in­strumental goals such as legitimising men's interests, but may not change power dynamics. True, having women in Village Management Committees can open spaces for women's voices to be heard, but such an opening is not sufficient for bringing about substantive change in female positions in the local social hierarchies.

Women's presence in the reserve committees is also based on kinship and friendship. The women are not elected by their peers but are co-opted by male leaders who are their parents, husbands or friends. The same women who occupy leadership positions within the vil­lage associations also sit on the reserve committees. The wives and other female family members of VMDC lead­ers hold positions of authority over other women. Gener­ally they are also in charge of finances. For example, the mother of the reserve president, considered to be an elder, holds a managerial position on the VMDC. She is in charge of finances related to the women's vegetable gar­dens and also of regulating the distribution of food sup­plies and seeds. As another family head stated, 'it is because she is the mother of the president that she is given the privilege of collecting the money'. The presi­dent's wife is the treasurer of the VMDC, and her aunt is responsible for the agricultural committee. These findings resonate with Cornwall's observation that:

.…the essentialisms that lurk behind well­intentioned efforts to increase women's participa­tion as women are dangerous as well as wrong­headed: these can deepen exclusion while providing reassurance that gender inequality has been addressed (Cornwall 2003: 1330).

When leaders' wives occupy leadership positions on the committees, it largely legitimises men's decisions rather than giving voice to the concerns of other women.

During the design and implementation processes, a meagre one or two women per village would be invited by male leaders to participate as passive observers, but not as active decision makers. No women leaders signed the reserve charter at a pubic meeting. This further illus­trates the shallowness of their involvement in public meetings and in decision-making regarding the reserve rules.

The Political Choice of the Reserve President

The Malidino reserve documents do not stipulate the role and prerogatives of the reserve president and how he should be chosen. Interviews with local actors suggest that there was a collective agreement that Gardido [8] , a lo­cal councillor, should be chosen as the founding president because of his dynamism and devotion to the village in­terests as the youth leader; he was president of the youth association of Dialamakhan at that time. In addition to being a political leader, he is considered to possess an environmental consciousness due to his prior involve­ment in reforestation and wildfire alleviation. He also plays a crucial role in the process of getting the villagers to agree to the reserve objectives and to participate in the implementation of the relevant directives.

Local electoral politics and upward links to the na­tional level are crucial factors in understanding Gardido's power base, as well as the general power dynamics in­volving the various local actors and stakeholders. The re­serve president's power is derived from his party political connections and financial incentives emanating from the Forest Service. He has been the first and only elected ru­ral councillor in Dialamakhan for 10 years representing the political party, which monopolised national politics since independence in 1960 until 2000, the Socialist Party (PS). When elections were held to the local councils in the 1980s, PS dominance was replicated at a local level as well (Vengroff & Johnston 1987). Until 1996, when a new decentralisation/regionalisation law [9] was adopted, elections were held every 5 years and were based on the winner-take-all principle. Only nationally registered par­ties could present candidates. This explains the predomi­nance of PS rural councillors as the nationally dominant party machine made it nearly impossible for opposition candidates to get elected (Juul 2006: 832).

The 1996 electoral reform enabled the election of op­position party members based on proportional representa­tion. Furthermore, presidential elections in 2000 ended the PS monopoly with the victory of the opposition lib­eral party, the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), can­didate (Amundsen 2001: 51). This first major political change in 40 years was replicated at a local level with PDS candidates securing a majority in Rural Councils in 2002. [10]

In the Rural Council of Dialakoto 11 , which covers sev­eral villages including Dialamakhan, the PDS won twen­ty-one out of twenty-eight seats, while the rival PS secured only five seats. When the reserve was created in 1998, there was only one rural councillor from Dia­lamakhan: the reserve president. The 2002 local elections returned a second candidate from the village belonging to the now ruling PDS party. Not only does the PDS candi­date rely on his party's solid majority in the council, but also on the support of the party in power at the national level. One would think that this would provide him with a competitive advantage in local decision-making both in terms of power and electoral legitimacy compared to the councillor from the PS.

However, while the 2002 local elections deprived Gardido's party of democratic legitimacy, his 'recognition' as reserve president by external actors-the Forest Service and donors-provided him with alternative sources of power. He then proceeded to turn the reserve into an instrument of his party and patronage, excluding from reserve access and benefits members of the now rul­ing party and their families.

   Gendered Social and Political Exclusions Top

Favouritism and Manipulations

Gardido's political affiliation and dependence on the For­est Service explains why when some villagers resist ab­andoning their lands inside the reserve for biodiversity conservation purposes, their preferences are not reflected in reserve decision-making. According to Gardido:

...if we abandon these fields in the reserve we will be conserving the resources in compliance with the wishes of the Forest Service, and there will be additional projects that will benefit the population. I too had fields that were in the reserve and I was the first one to abandon them.

As a man of influence in the village, he 'colludes in translating idiosyncratic local interests into demands that can be read as legitimate' (Mosse 2001: 21). Says one household head, 'If someone is stronger than you are and demands that you give up something you are obliged to do it. Even if I do not agree to abandoning the land, I never had a choice'. Kodo, one of the villagers who abandoned his land, indicated that the entire village was afraid of Gardido. One interviewee explained, 'we aban­doned our lands contrary to our own wishes and without any compensation', reflecting the experience of many in the village.

Interviews reflect the perception among those involved that the president of the reserve, Gardido, and his rela­tives are the sole or key beneficiaries of these ostensible poverty alleviation activities. While some families are partially or completely excluded from food and seed sup­plies, each individual member of the president's house­hold and those of other families enjoying his favouritism receive 15 kg of maize or millet, 3 lt of oil and 5 kg of peas per distribution twice a year, at the beginning and the end of the rainy season. The appalling discrimination in the distribution of donor provided resources helps the enrichment of some families, while impoverishing others; during the rainy season many households feel lucky if they could afford one meal per day, while facing enor­mous obstacles in obtaining a loan that would allow them to purchase seeds.

The village of Diamalakhan is a rare rural example of traditional authorities collaborating in harmony with po­litical institutional ones. This collaboration is based on mutual exchange of favours benefiting only a select group of local actors. The Dialamakhan village chief was designated by and put forth as a candidate before the Vil­lage General Assembly by the father of the reserve presi­dent and other male elders who asserted that he possessed the qualities of a chief. Accordingly, should the reserve president act undemocratically and in ways that are per­ceived to be unfair, the village chief would not be in a position to criticise or sanction him. Cases of exclusion and marginalisation observed in the management of the reserve would not solicit a reaction from the village chief or Imam who are the administrative and religious authori­ties in the village. As Ndioumry, one critic of the reserve put it, 'the village chief and the Imam are on the same side as the president of the reserve because each time the food and seed supplies arrive they get their share. There­fore they are careful not to criticise anything'. 12 The president and reserve leaders suffer no disciplinary ac­tion, irrespective of power abuse. In fact, it is these indi­viduals who set rules facilitating control and the sanctioning of potential dissenters. The village chief, the Imam, and the president of the reserve justify their col­laboration by pointing out the significance of the reserve for the community as a whole.

Ethnicity also comes into play in food distribution. The reserve president is from the main ethnic group in the vil­lage, the Pulaar. A head of a Wolof family, Kodo, who lived in the village, but was not originally from there, was also excluded from access to seed and food supplies. Says the migrant:

I pay taxes all right so I am part of the village even if I am a Wolof and I migrated here not so long ago. The distribution of food supplies and seeds is done among parents, friends, and family, and between the people who are part of the politi­cal party of the reserve president. [13]

As a migrant, he is the only Wolof in the village. Al­though, the Mandinka and the Pular are the main ethnic groups in the periphery of the park and while some vil­lages have Mandinka majorities, there are few Mandinka households in Dialamakhan. Members of the Mandinka households that I interviewed likewise complained of marginalisation and exclusion.

The Effects of Men's Political Rivalries on Women's Solidarity

These different types of exclusions and marginalisation led to the creation in 2004 of a new social and political association, Balal Alal that means 'God Help' in Pulaar. The initiator and president of this new association is the newly elected liberal rural councillor. Interviews [14] with individuals who still belong to the reserve association and those in Balal Alal reveal how in one camp people are in favour of the reserve, praise the president and belong to his political party, while in the other one they were very critical of him and belong to the opposition liberal politi­cal party, the PDS.

This division was reproduced among women-following the lead of their male relatives-splitting the women along the same party lines and fragmenting their traditional solidarity. Women were dragged into these po­litical conflicts as wives of husbands with certain politi­cal affiliations. The first and the oldest one of the women's associations called Bamtare, the Pulaar word for development, had been established 30 years back. It was the only women's association to participate in re­serve activities and to benefit from it financially because of its support to the president of the reserve and his party the PS. Because of political conflicts among the reserve's male leaders the Bamtare association, which boasted over fifty active participants, lost over half of its members. The women, who ceased to be members because they felt excluded and marginalised, rallied around the alternative association Balal Alal, which was created in protest against the reserve president and his political party.

Some women were excluded from the food and seed grants and income-generating activities by women lead­ers or their peers from Bamtare. According to female leaders of Bamtare, in order to benefit from the food and seed supplies, women must be active in both the mainte­nance of the shared orchard and the vegetable gardens, and in wildfire fighting activities. Although some women physically cannot participate in these activities due to an overload of domestic work, they are denied access to vital resources.

These forms of exclusion show that the gender prob­lematic does not only imply power relations between men and women, but imbalances in power relations among women as well. The fact that women's associations are looked upon as homogeneous groups with no differentia­tions obscures a finer appreciation of power relations among women along caste, class, ethnicity, age and po­litical party lines. At the very least, these facts merit a dis-aggregation of the category of 'women' or 'women's associations' because women who are part of the respec­tive groups do not share a same gender identity. Giving voice to elite women who may have little interest in their 'sisters' can deepen the gendered exclusion of others, no­tably younger, poorer women (Cornwall 2003). Donor perceptions of women's associations as homogeneous groups enable elite women to use the public domain to gain power over resource use and access.

How family pressures become superimposed on, and exacerbate, extant political cleavages is well illustrated by the confession of Souko Debbo, 15 one of the associa­tion members:

I am not a member of the Bamtare association which is affiliated with the reserve because my husband did not want me to participate. He asked me to participate in the new women's association affiliated with PDS. I have no regrets because I am proud to follow my husband's orders. Without my husband's authorisation I do not participate in any political or association activities.

A male head of a family echoed these sentiments: 'Here, according to our traditions, wives blindly follow their husbands' [16] . As a result of these political divisions, the reserve has been helpful to one political party and a mi­nority of families affiliated with it, while excluding oth­ers. The political conflicts have destabilised the committees, forcing out opposition members, and leaving only ruling party affiliates among the remaining mem­bers.

Debbo, a woman who holds the position of account in­spector of Bamtare, attempted to set up a system of con­trol of treasury funds. The other female leaders expelled her from the association and activities of the vegetable gardens. She was also excluded from receiving food and seed donations. Other women resigned from reserve ac­tivities as a show of disagreement and frustration with their discrimination and marginalisation. Most of the Mandinka women no longer want to belong to the main women's association because of fundamental disagree­ments over its modus operandi. These forms of resistance and control are akin to what Fraser (1987) qualifies as 'unruly practice'. The latter highlights the ways in which rules, norms and practices that characterise different in­stitutional arenas can be subverted, ignored or bypassed in explicit and implicit instances of resistance by less powerful social actors. Although, as Ntsebeza (2004) ar­gues, rural residents dependent on hereditary traditional leadership are not citizens but subjects, one could also argue that rural people-men and women-are not pas­sive agents, and their resistance demonstrates their claims to rights and citizenship.

   Conclusion Top

This article has shown how parallel local institutions, as they relate to party and electoral politics in local councils, have served to reproduce inequity and exclusion by privi­leging the social and cultural rules and codes through which power relations operate in the rural communities surrounding the Malidino reserve. These findings dovetail with a growing body of scholarship on the socio­economic, cultural and gendered impacts of government initiatives and development projects (Wright & Nelson 1995:6; Sivaramakrishnan 2000: 433; Agarwal 2001; Cleaver 2001; Henkel & Stirrat 2001; Hildyard et al. 2001; Kothari 2001; Mosse 2001).

But, this article also brings in a hitherto under­theorised and under-researched dimension of the study of the gendered effects of externally driven interventions, namely rural electoral and party politics. This omission in extant literature is surprising considering the significance of the advent of competitive politics for local social fab­rics (Crook & Manor 1998). Studies of democratic decen­tralisation do highlight the impacts of the changing institutional and political landscapes on local societies, but mostly as they concern representation in local coun­cils or participation in local elections. As with participa­tory approaches discussed above, such analyses often employ simplistic measures of change, such as increased numbers of women or other marginalised groups in elected bodies or their turnout numbers. Very few schol­ars have conducted process-tracing, micro-level type of analysis dissecting the combined effects of various types of government and donor interventions on authority and power, on social, cultural and gender power dynamics in the context of emerging competitive politics.

This study has shown that parallel institutions have re­produced and deepened extant social hierarchies in the rural communities surrounding the reserve. At the same time, government and donor interventions provided alter­native sources of power and authority to those deprived of legitimacy in the context of electoral politics. Re­sources that came with such authority as presidency of the newly created reserve and chairmanships of various committees by far surpassed those of newly elected, but effectively powerless with regard to conservation, Rural Councils. The new resources were used to channel pa­tronage and punish political opponents. Not only did these dynamics fail to rectify extant inequalities between and among women but they served to deepen them gener­ating resistance among women. It is unclear whether such resistance, however creative, would help overcome the inequalities and inequities inherent in Senegalese rural societies and built into projects. Structural change may be needed and external interventions tailored accordingly in ways that are systematically biased in favour of those that are marginalised (Agrawal & Gupta 2005).


I would like to thank PROGEDE staff in Dakar and Tam­bacounda, mainly Dr. Cheikh Dieng for introducing me to the people in Dialamakhan and providing all the project documents. I express my deep gratitude to my translator and facilitator Aly Bocar Hann from the Agence Region­ale de Developpement (ARD) in Tambacounda, and the men and women in Dialamakhan and the villages sur­rounding the Malidino reserve. My Ph.D. committee members from Clark University, Dianne Rocheleau (chair), Barbara Thomas-Slayter and Kiran Asher have been helpful and supportive. The article benefited from comments from the Institutional Choice and Recognition Group of the World Resources Institute. I express my deep gratitude to Jesse Ribot, Tomila Lankina and Ash­wini Chhatre for their thoughtful and critical comments and editing of my article. Support for the comparative World Resources Institute Institutional Choice and Rec­ognition Project, of which this article is a part, was gen­erously furnished by the World Bank Program on Forestry (PROFOR) and by the United States Agency for International Development's Economic Growth, Agricul­ture and Technology division (EGAT).[50]

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Ribot, J.C.
Development and Change. 2009; 40(1): 105-129


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