Women are at the center of bamboo and rattan value chains worldwide and are critical agents of change, playing a key role in sustainable development – as important producers and consumers across millions of rural communities.
But, many continue to face obstacles that limit their productivity, undermining their contributions to household income and wellbeing. These challenges often include legal barriers to land ownership, employment restrictions, and discrimination.
On International Day of Women we reflect on INBAR efforts to empower women bamboo producers, strengthening their skills and expertise so they can achieve higher productivity, increase their incomes, and deliver development gains to their families and wider communities.
Learning from recent initiatives
Recent gender-related activities include a bamboo production and handicraft initiative in Nepal which aims to maximize gains from bamboo production through the dissemination of proven craft-making skills and planting and management techniques; and a bamboo charcoal initiative in Ethiopia, which analyses women’s involvement and identifies ways of strengthening and expanding their role.
Both initiatives reveal the important contributions that women play in the production, processing and marketing of bamboo; demonstrate women’s important contributions to household income; and show how involvement in the production of bamboo can help to empower women, strengthening their self-respect.
They also reveal the challenges that continue to hold women back. Women often lack access to equipment and new technologies – tools designed to meet the specific needs and requirements of women are scarce; working environments are often insufficiently ‘gender-sensitized’ – more needs to be done, for example, to encourage women to participate in trainings; and few women are given the chance to network – limiting their exposure to new ideas and economic opportunities.
The INBAR approach
Responding to these challenges, given women’s socially entrenched marginalization across many parts of the Global South, is never easy. But, INBAR’s recent experience in Nepal, Ethiopia, and beyond, provides valuable insights that inform our gender strategies and offer a blueprint for efforts elsewhere.
INBAR prioritizes approaches that play to women’s strengths and skills in the production process – emphasizing design, for instance, which in many traditional societies is the responsibility of female producers. Promoting simple, cost-effective mechanization is another strategy – ensuring that women producers are put on a more equal footing with their male counterparts.
In Ethiopia, for instance, the introduction of simple metal and brick kilns has transformed women’s livelihoods, producing charcoal in only 24 hours, significantly less time than the two-weeks this procedure normally takes.
We also support the formation of women’s bamboo producer groups – which experience tells us can help amplify the voices of women and improve access to knowledge and training, providing the skills and expertise needed to raise production.
One other key requirement is to ‘gender-sensitize’ workplaces – providing the conditions under which women can contribute their talents and experience more fully. This could mean, for example, targeting women with training opportunities, or introducing flexible working arrangements that would enable women to work from home and earn a stable income while attending to other traditional responsibilities like child-rearing.
In many countries, bamboo production offers women an opportunity to raise their incomes and strengthen their empowerment – but exploiting this opportunity will require overcoming significant barriers. On International Day of Women it is important to learn from past initiatives and apply their insights – so that bamboo production can deliver for women, families and communities.