Women as agents of change on fire prevention

Women are very powerful agents of change – this is something that really struck me during a two-week volunteer training trip in West Kalimantan recently. If we want to tackle forest fires effectively, we need to help and support them so they can educate their families to stop clearing land with fires.

My colleagues and I were working at Dusun Tanjung Perak, Sungai Kelik Village at Nanga Tayap sub district, where we helped organise a train-the-trainer exercise with volunteers of Masyarakat Siaga Api (Fire-free Community) under our Desa Siaga Api programme.

We talked to the villagers about why using fire to clear land is extremely dangerous and what can be done to help maintain the integrity of the food supply chain around the villages and the wildlife habitats in the forests.

Women at the forefront

I was really amazed by the interest and active participation of the women in the villages that we visited.

Discussions were frank and open. One participant went straight to the heart of the matter: “Many of us learn from our previous generations to open lands with burning. We need 200 thousand Rupiah every month (to feed our families). If this practice is prohibited, how can we earn a living?”

This is a central issue that we are trying to help the community resolve.

Women power: participating actively in our fire-free programmes in Kalimantan
Women power: participating actively in our fire-free programmes in Kalimantan

Land clearing using fire by farmers and individuals is still very prevalent in many parts of Kalimantan. It’s generally thought that these are grounded in traditional culture, but I believe that with appropriate social and educational interventions, we can change the mindset of the communities.

As a rehabilitation and conservation practitioner, I also see a lot of value in training villagers and particularly women, in sustainable ways to clear land without fire, while at the same time offering them ways to generate more income for their families.

Women, like children and the elderly, are more at risk and suffer more health hazards during forest fires. At the same time, they also have real influence over their communities particularly in the matriarchal societies found in many regions in Indonesia. They are a resource waiting to be tapped.

GAR/SMART is currently looking at ways to empower women as part of our fire prevention strategies by developing education programmes to drive behavioural change in the community. The families we talked to are willing to abandon the burning practices that they have used for years. If properly guided and with local women leading the charge, I believe we can truly make a difference in the combat against fire and haze.

GAR's sociologists working with Masyarakat Siaga Api volunteers
GAR’s sociologists working with Masyarakat Siaga Api volunteers.
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