Women are playing a central role in protecting mangroves and building climate-resilient coastal communities, as projects in Vietnam and Indonesia are demonstrating. Mangrove forests—trees and shrubs that grow in tropical estuaries—provide an important physical buffer between land and sea, protecting coastal areas, infrastructure and livelihoods from storm surges and climate-related impacts. Given the importance of mangroves, it is essential that all members of coastal communities contribute their knowledge and experience to better managing this critical resource.
In Vietnam’s Red River Delta, USAID's Our Coast – Our Future pilot project, under the Tenure and Global Climate Change program, supports effective participatory coastal spatial planning and collaborative mangrove management practices. Early on the pilot team discovered that the local Women’s Union in Tien Lang district of Haiphong municipality had been at the forefront of mangrove nursery, planting and protection work since the mid-1990s.
The Women's Union helped expand the local mangrove area, providing greater protection to sea dikes, aquaculture ponds and other coastal livelihood activities. The Union tested mangrove planting approaches that have proven to be cost-effective and sustainable. Their work successfully expanded the mangrove area, benefitting the entire community.
Yet, it is clear that women have not only lacked the opportunity to directly manage the mangrove forests, they also have been negatively affected by new developments such as aquaculture pond construction. The project’s gender-inclusive needs assessment, Participatory Coastal Resource Assessment, as well as associated gender analyses reveal that women are the primary gleaners (people who catch aquatic products within the mangroves and mudflats, contributing food and income to their households). Yet women gleaners earn less than men because they do not use traps and other larger gear. When new aquaculture ponds are constructed, women end up having to travel longer distances to reach harvesting areas. By identifying these inequities, as well as understanding women’s current and past conservation efforts, USAID better understood women’s unique challenges and contributions, and specifically targeted women’s inclusion in mangrove management and coastal planning.
As a result, the project supported the active involvement of women not only in the initial Assessment, but also in the supplementary participatory mapping process. This participatory process is central to USAID’s approach to improve mangrove co-management processes and support vulnerable livelihoods in the face of economic and environmental changes. The process is used to create a set of digitized maps of the district’s coastal landscape detailing resource conditions, users, management and tenure arrangements, and conflict hotspots.
Through the mapping process, USAID trains women to use tablets, collect data by interviewing different types of resource users and interpret the resulting maps. With these new resources, women gleaners have more knowledge of and input into community’s goals and plans such as increasing mangrove coverage, resolving disputes over resources and expanding eco-tourism infrastructure. Within the coastal vision created by the communes and district, women are also engaged in the collaborative learning process for designing an effective collaborative management system for Tien Lang’s mangroves.
LESTARI, another USAID project in Indonesia, is similarly working to support the role of women in mangrove management. By working with the Mimika Women’s Network of southern Papua which has one of the world’s largest and most intact mangrove ecosystem, LESTARI is providing women with the opportunity to further benefit from the mangroves they are protecting.
Through Coastal Field Schools, local women learn about the importance of developing new mangrove-based livelihoods such as processing mangrove tea leaves as a medicinal product and or making cakes, chips and syrup from mangroves. In addition, LESTARI has showcased the critical role of women leaders such as Mathea Mamoyou who has long fought to protect the Mimika Regency mangroves and has now become politically active as a member of the Regional House of Representatives.
Nayna Jhaveri, PhD, is a Resource Tenure Specialist working on USAID's Tenure and Global Climate Change Program. She has been working in the field of community-based natural resource management for 25 years supporting innovations in legal, policy and institutional frameworks. Her Ph.D. in Geography from Clark University focused on the equity dimensions of common property management among poor ethnic groups in the Himalayas of southwest China. She taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the Geography Department of University of Washington and Environmental Studies Program of Colgate University for nine years. She has significant experience in a range of Asian countries including China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Vietnam, Philippines and Laos.
Nguyen Thu Ha
Nguyen Thu Ha is a Gender Specialist on USAID's Vietnam Forests and Deltas Program.