Planting the seeds of equality


Many women are involved in the grassroots levels of forestry in Nepal but few are in senior positions.

Federation University Australia researchers hope a new book will be a catalyst for change in Nepal’s forestry industry.

Dr Soma Pillay, Senior Lecturer in Management in the Federation Business School, and Associate Professor Wendy Wright from the School of Health and Life Sciences, have collaborated with Dr Radha Wagle from Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Environment, to release the book Feminist Institutionalism and Gendered Bureaucracies – Forestry Governance in Nepal.

Work on the book began after Dr Wagle, who is Joint Secretary in the Nepalese government and was studying in Australia, told her colleagues about practices in Nepalese forestry which she was not happy with and felt she was not able to make changes to, despite her position.

“Wendy and I put our heads together and we realised that we could do something about this and that could be a first step forward to creating change within bureaucracies, specifically women having a voice in rigid bureaucracies,” Dr Pillay said.

“We have assumed a multidisciplinary focus to this book and that’s quite exciting because this is what collaboration is all about, bringing in skills from different disciplines and creating something that's creative and innovative.”

Dr Pillay said the further the researchers got into the project, which included many interviews with people working in the forestry sector, the more they realised how difficult it was for women.

“They have the skills and the knowledge, but they haven’t been able to act because of the rigid systems in place, and it became obvious how little they were able to contribute towards good governance.

“It’s legacy, it's history and it's basically gendered bureaucracies. This is what happens when bureaucracies, systems and institutions are gendered. By gendered we mean an imbalance between men and women, their place within institutions and the extent to which they can actually have a voice.

“So when we talk about good governance, we're referring to basic democratic principles such as contributing towards decision making, being able to simply apply for a career opportunity and not getting it because you’re a woman.”

Dr Pillay said the research showed that while many women were involved in the grassroots levels of forestry in Nepal, there was a perception that this is where their place was in the hierarchy, and they were not seen to be suited to positions in the office.

Men, on the other hand, dominated decision-making positions and an Eiffel-tower type of culture prevailed, characterised by top-down power dynamics where rules dominated and where roles were prioritised over people.

“We found that while Nepal has sophisticated policies and systems in place, but what was really happening was these policies and systems were not being implemented as intended, creating opportunities for institutional anomalies.

“So what we did was delve deeper and interview both men and women in the field, and men who held office jobs. We were interested to look at current legislative and policy frameworks to determine the inclusion or exclusion of women,” Dr Pillay said.

“So we didn't want to make the assumption that women were excluded, we wanted to investigate. And we were also interested in the dynamics of culture in formal and informal institutions, and also in determining if there were any power relations.

“We wanted that to be clear and to have that sort of primary data where people indicated through interviews that there were certainly power relations, and a lack of influential participation of women in forestry departments or forestry bureaucratic structures.” Dr Soma Pillay

Dr Pillay said the book was also intended to gain insights into the space of feminist institutionalism. It was also about making a difference.

She said the book was relevant to anyone who had the power to make decisions and to influence, with the findings intended to inform and extend feminist studies by applying it to a context that was found to be under explored.

“On the one hand we were trying to send a message to policymakers but we also wanted to extend research and add benefits and say to other researchers ‘well, we've started this research around gendered bureaucracies within developing countries, how about you take on this challenge and extend the knowledge base to include other gendered bureaucracies’, because there's very little primary data on that. So the benefits of this book are actually multi-fold. We are reaching out to policymakers, to scholars, to researchers and to managers and practitioners as well,” Dr Pillay said.

“So the good thing about this book is that it taps into an area that was very much under-explored and it provides an insider’s perspective through Radha's experience on the efficacy of public sector cultural change.

“And we wanted to send the message to policymakers, especially in countries who experience these rigid bureaucracies, that women can be as influential, and that gendered bureaucracies are seen to lack progression.”


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