The Impacts of Forest Concession on Women’s Lives
The data from Global Forest Watch (GFW) records a massive loss of tree covers in peat lands in Pelalawan Regency and Siak Regency, Riau, which could lead to prolonged forest fires. Currently, the proportion of degraded forests is much larger than the proportion of natural ones, potentially causing an extended impact on women who are highly dependent on forest conditions. The increasingly fast rate of deforestation each year is triggered by the large number of concessions granted to plantation and forest-based companies, thus limiting the people’s access to forests and natural resources.
In the last 18 years, forest fires have occurred almost every year in Pekanbaru City, resulting in haze and smoke and polluting the whole city. The status of the haze is ‘hazardous’ (its Air Pollution Standard Index/ISPU hitting more than 400) for the human life, especially for vulnerable groups such as women, and children. Almost every year the emergency response provided by the local government of Pekanbaru City and the state government are still far from enough to protect the public’s health (women, especially pregnant mothers, infants, and children). Usually women and children are exposed to the haze with neither proper protection (N95 mask) nor an adequate alternative residence during the occurrence of forest fires. Children are forced to be absent from school for weeks because their classes are not equipped with air conditioners and air purifiers.
Women Research Institute (WRI) is currently running a data-based advocacy traning program to promote gender equality in the effort to overcome problems related to forest concessions. The implementation of this program is supported by Global Forest Watch, a subsidiary of World Resource Institute. This training program has been carried out in two districts in Riau Province namely the District of Siak and the District of Pelalawan as a follow-up of WRI’s previous researches on gender, transparency, and participation in concessions.
Through our previous researches, WRI found that even though women play significant roles in the management of the environment and land, they were often not included in the meetings discussing policies related to environment and land management. Women seldom got the access to direct information while they experienced direct impacts of the decisions made.
The issue of forest fires which Indonesia has experienced every year for the last two decades has not only become a global concern, but also a disaster causing large-scaled deforestation. The forest fires in Riau Province in March 2014 recorded the most fire locations, with Bengkalis, Rokan Hilir, Pelalawan, and Siak Districts contributing up to 52 percent of the total fire locations in Indonesia.
The fire disasters greatly impact the local community living nearby forest concession areas, as a majority of them are burnt. The Indonesian government often allows big private companies to manage the land or natural resources for economic reasons, by granting them long-term concessions (approximately 20-55 years), which damage the forest areas and ignore the rights of the local community. However, there has been no research on public participation in forest management and forest concessions in Indonesia, particularly in relation to gender issues.
In the last few years, forest fires have been one of the major environmental issues in Indonesia. In 2014, Riau Province recorded the most fire locations in the country. As an illustration, four districts in Riau Province, namely Bengkalis, Rokan Hilir, Pelalawan, and Siak, accounted for 52% fire locations from the total forest fires throughout Indonesia. Meanwhile, the area of forests which experienced deforestation reached 373,373 hectares.
The problem of forest fires, which causes various economic, health, and environmental impacts to the local people, largely—if not mostly—affects women. As women are considered to be responsible for domestic matters, they are expected to bear the responsibility of all matters related to the family’s continuity.