Women Leaders Assert Their Voices to Claim Their Forest Rights


In the heart of Chhattisgarh, India, a transformative movement has been brewing among the forest-dwelling women of Baloda Bazar district. A significant change took root in the past couple of years as the women of the region became actively engaged and stood up to claim their forest rights.

For a long time, women have been sidelined and overlooked when it comes to matters of forest governance and rights. Some of them were not aware of the existence of forest rights committees (FRCs) in their villages, and their membership was often denied. Conscious of this issue, Ahmi Amchya Arogya Sathi (AAAS), an Indian not-for-profit organisation working on community health, launched the NETRI programme, which sought to empower women and address the issue of forest rights.

Through NETRI, more than 300 women from ten villages underwent leadership training, igniting the flames of empowerment within them. They learned about the forest rights committees, democratic governance systems, negotiation principles, how to represent their concerns using with a feminist lens, and the power they held within themselves to effect change. Inspired by success stories from other regions, they realized the importance of women’s representation in the FRCs and fought to be heard. As a result, for instance, the once male-dominated committees transformed to include seven out of fifteen members as women.

These women, equipped with newfound knowledge and confidence, began to assert their wisdom of forests and food systems, the intricacies of seasonality, and the critical needs of forest management. They demanded recognition of their roles and rights, no longer held back by potential constraints. Their journey has been a testament to the strength of intergenerational women’s leadership, proving that when united, women can claim their forest rights with unwavering determination.

The challenges of the pandemic also played a part in this process. The younger generation realized the vital importance of forests for their livelihoods, culture, and economy. This realization fueled their passion to protect and preserve the forests for generations to come.

Furthermore, the training provided through NETRI not only empowered the women to claim their rights but also sparked a resurgence of traditional knowledge about crops, forest products, herbal medicines, and the diverse flora and fauna that thrive in their surroundings. With great zeal, the participating women documented this knowledge, recognizing it as their rich heritage. They acknowledged the losses their forests and livelihoods suffered and understood the need for intergenerational knowledge transfer to build and restore their forests for a sustainable future.

As the women continued to assert their voices and claim their forest rights, the region witnessed a remarkable change. The once overlooked women became powerful advocates for their communities and guardians of their forests. The journey was not without challenges, but their resilience and unity are paving the way for a brighter and more inclusive future, where women’s leadership is celebrated and respected. The forests that have been their home for generations are now protected by their unwavering determination.

NETRI was an AAAS initiative supported by Gender at Work through the Power Up! Programme (PU!). Discover other Stories of Change from PU! by reading our latest Annual Report.

Are you interested in hearing more stories about women’s struggles and successes in asserting their forest rights in India? Read AAAS’s MAKAAM case studies report, available in English and Hindi.

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