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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 319-320

Gender, Development and Environmental Governance: Theorizing Connections

School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

Correspondence Address:
Patrik Oskarsson
School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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Date of Web Publication24-Nov-2015

How to cite this article:
Oskarsson P. Gender, Development and Environmental Governance: Theorizing Connections. Conservat Soc 2015;13:319-20

How to cite this URL:
Oskarsson P. Gender, Development and Environmental Governance: Theorizing Connections. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2015 [cited 2019 Jul 24];13:319-20. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2015/13/3/319/170412

This is a book which moves between three very different but nevertheless linked worlds of forest governance, development, and gender. As such, it is an ambitious examination of women and participatory forestry, especially as it is practised in Sweden. The book also explores how these topics are researched and promoted by the Swedish University of the author, and includes rich insights from India.

The main setting is a small village, Drevdagen, in a remote part of rural Sweden, where women are attempting to become active in the governance of their forests. When they decide that they need their own forum to avoid being stuck in the local council with its narrow economistic approach to resources and bureaucratic ways of functioning, they face an uphill battle not only against the centralising tendencies of the larger Swedish bureaucracy, but also against the men of the village who have held on to positions of influence in the council despite the official rhetoric of gender equality.

The second setting is Nayagarh district of Orissa, India, where the author studies similar women's associations and their work on natural resources, and also topics which are more openly referred to as women's issues here as opposed to Sweden. This social setting is clearly very different from the Swedish case, with many of the apparent human development indicators leaving a lot to be asked for and certainly much lower income levels overall. Yet, the spaces for separate women's groups which talk not only about concerns specific to women but also about overall resource development are perhaps paradoxically much greater. This paradox becomes even greater given that it was Swedish government development funding, which promoted the (official) participatory forestry program in Orissa a few decades back, and later contributed to a push towards gendering these programs.

The third setting covered in the book is the academic environment of the author at the Swedish Agricultural University in Uppsala, Sweden. Here a group of academics wish to improve local participation and voice in forestry against the dominance of the state. But internal village dynamics, like ingrained gender patterns, are either not their concern or are even actively avoided, since 'creating' divisions within the village is seen as weakening the prospects for the larger struggle over resource control. Again the overarching ambition in Sweden of homogenising equality appears to reduce the spaces for engaging with gender differences.

Discussing these three very different settings in one book is clearly far from straightforward given the variations in wealth, social organisation, climate, and many other factors which are relevant in participatory forestry. This is especially so when the methods used for data collection and the scale of analysis of the different cases do not easily match according to a comparative research setup. The author refers to the approach of the book as a "relational analysis". At a theoretical level, this is about the "tenuous" links between gender, environmental governance, and development practice, across spaces and scales. Practically it is about "connections between two distant places in the North and the South (p. 8)," and what learning can come from relating these to one another, to build on both the similarities in the exclusion of women from core resource governance, and the differences in experienced possibilities to mobilise and affect change using collective action.

The author spends the first two chapters of the book constructing a wide-ranging framework for the relational analysis. The book moves through subsequent chapters between Drevdagen village and Nayagarh district, interspersed with briefer interactions at the University. It shows how the respective groups were formed based on the need for separate forums away from male domination (Chapter 3), the present context of environmental policies which the groups had to relate to (Chapter 4), how they came to form their programs of action (Chapter 5), and later encountered certain forms of resistance by the existing institutions (Chapter 6). It is in the processes of realisation, group formation, and attempts to affect change that the author draws out the everyday realities of development practice and usefully relates the different cases to one another.

In chapter 7, the Swedish women's group is finding it difficult to create actual change despite its many activities and efforts. The book asks some very pertinent questions about what sort of equality over the environment and resources should be the goal of a society, and which differences are possible, or even desirable, to remove. In Sweden, the word jδmstδlldhet is used for equality between men and women, but jδmlikhet is the word for economic equality. Jδmlikhet is an ideal which does not talk about who is being discriminated against; this hides the power dynamics inherent in gender relations. Faceless bureaucracies are instead supposed to manage resources; this results in the issues being hidden since men are the main employees and decision-makers. This is not to deny that significant progress has been made in many areas in Sweden, but this is via equalising tendencies in the labour market. For a male topic like forest management there has hardly been any local participation, and whatever has occurred has not involved women to any greater degree.

Certainly there is a point in using the wide-ranging experiences of the author and the three different settings of the book in the relational analysis. It is in the Indian context, in which development interventions and a discourse of unequal power relations have created a space and a language in which women can make claims openly and where it is natural to challenge existing structures. In Sweden, such challenges cannot be made as easily. At the same time it is of course a challenging approach to use in-depth action research methods in a particular village in Sweden, more regular ethnographic methods in a district in Orissa, and then finally relating this to interactions within the author's University. Since the emphasis is on the possibilities for gendered resource management in rural Sweden, it would perhaps have been possible to present the same argument without the relational analysis in a more traditional approach. This is especially so since the detailed and very personal account of the Swedish research somewhat leaves the reader waiting for the same level of intimacy and detail in Orissa but this never happens (and is of course not intended to happen by the author).

The style of writing is fluid and engaged. This is an author who is clearly not only deeply involved in her topic but also in the co-creation of knowledge together with her research collaborators; The Swedish case is particularly given a much more personal tone due to the action research approach. There is also plenty of useful theorising while the tone of pedagogic practice and outreach remains. One also senses a good amount of bravery when colleagues at the author's own University are exposed to criticism. Perhaps the use of an integrated analysis in which the story moves back and forth in every chapter between the different settings could be said to contribute to a slight confusion for the reader. Given the overall exciting contents of the book what could have been wished for is a more attractive title, and perhaps also chapter headings. These may have been editorial decisions but nevertheless need to be mentioned since readers will need to go beyond these to uncover the contents.

This book will be of interest to academics and policy makers working on participatory processes broadly and gender specifically. Given its in-depth discussion of material from Sweden and India, it should appeal to a wide readership interested in natural resource management, particularly in the way it reverses the gaze and looks at Swedish practices in the area of participatory forestry.


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