A made-in-Canada sustainable development initiative continues to flourish across the globe, significantly impacting parts of the world in ways never foreseen.
The International Model Forest Network (IMFN), launched in 1992 and with its Secretariat housed at Natural Resources Canada – Canadian Forest Service, has shepherded the development of more than 60 Model Forests around the world.
The Model Forest concept, created in Canada in the early 1990s, is a partnership-based and integrated approach to the sustainable management of natural resources in large-scale landscapes.
“Model Forests make up a network of individuals and organizations who, together, plan and implement a range of activities that reflect their local sustainable natural resource management priorities and values,” explained Rich Verbisky, Head of the IMFN Secretariat. “These activities can include forest and landscape restoration, wildland fire management, natural resource policy development, non-timber forest product income generation, biodiversity conservation, indigenous participation, and community training and capacity building, as examples.”
The principles upon which Model Forests operate inherently call for inclusive, participatory and transparent governance structures for consensus-based decision-making. In 2017, the Latin-American Model Forest Network (RLABM, in Spanish), comprised of 33 Caribbean, South and Central American landscapes, recognized a unique opportunity arising from the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to better articulate and define the role of women in decision making throughout the network by developing a Gender Equity and Equality Strategy.
“We need specific tools to eradicate the gender gap that exists in some Model Forests in order to be a true demonstration of sustainable development,” said Yerill Tórrez, Agronomic Engineer and lead author of the strategy. “The strategy represented an opportunity to strengthen this governance model that has been adopted in more than 30 Latin American landscapes, and that directly affects the quality of life of the people living there.”
A Cross-Cutting Issue
The RLABM initiated the strategy through a participatory process that began by trying to better understand the linkages between gender equity and development issues such as poverty, climate change, conservation, food security, peace processes and gender violence. The strategy advocates the use of inclusive language, promoting women’s empowerment, equal representation in decision making processes and making space for the voices of traditionally disadvantaged groups including children and youth, indigenous and ethnic communities, LGBTQ populations, the elderly, disabled and immigrants.
Images: Women being trained on renewable energy technologies and the installation and maintenance of photovoltaic systems. Puerto Rico National Model Forest.
By 2018, gender concerns were fully integrated into the new 5-year RLABM Strategic Plan. In 2019, the regional network formed a gender commission to develop a baseline and establish indicators that will help monitor implementation of the strategic objectives related to gender and social inclusion.
In adopting this strategy, the regional network takes up the call to action issued by the SDGs, the Government of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, Natural Resources Canada’s Charter for Gender Equality, the World Bank, and other increasingly vocal supporters of women’s empowerment.
“This strategy aims to institutionalize a gender approach throughout the regional network as a whole to deliberately and meaningfully empower women and girls,” said Christa Mooney, Senior Program Specialist at the IMFN Secretariat. “We hope to replicate similar initiatives across other regions of the IMFN.”
To that end, the strategy has been shared widely across the IMFN to inspire others to also reflect on this important issue. In response, in November 2019, the Regional Model Forest Network for Asia initiated the development of their own gender strategy.
 Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning.