Gloria Adeyiga left Ghana for the first time in 2009 to study in the UK at NRI, for her Master’s in Natural Resources Management. A big believer in gender equality, Gloria now spends her time back in Ghana working on land restoration and encouraging more women to become actively engaged and share their expertise. Gloria took five minutes out of her day to Skype with NRI Communications Officer Linden Kemkaran to describe how she is making a difference.
“I chose NRI at the University of Greenwich because they offered exactly the subjects that I was interested in – i.e. programmes in responsible natural resources management - but when I arrived, I found the experience quite different to what I’d been used to.
Teaching and learning in Ghana is mainly structured around reading notes after class and then sitting an exam on the subject. The University of Greenwich was completely different as I had to do self-directed study for the first time. I was expected to research topics, develop and deliver presentations, and partake in group activities. The lecturers enabled us, but I had to do quite a lot of learning on my own which was very new to me.
It took me a while to adjust and I had to get up to speed quickly otherwise I wasn’t going to do very well in my course. Fortunately, I was able to turn to former students from Ghana who still lived in Chatham, and I also worked closely with my group members to bring me up to speed. My lecturers, Dr Peter Burt and Claire Coote, were always very accessible and friendly, and they gave me tips on how best to study.
I started out being mainly interested in trees as timber, but while doing my MSc I became fascinated with the subject of land restoration with a focus on gender integration.
In the mostly patriarchal system in Northern Ghana, women do not inherit land from their fathers, nor own land in their marital homes, so traditionally they have no input into the management of land. I realized that successful land restoration in Ghana would work better if women had a say in how the land should be restored.
In Ghana we have a very narrow rainfall window which means that during the long dry season, we endure many months of food and nutrition insecurity, and it’s the women who solve the food shortages. They traditionally use tree products like shea nuts and butter, baobab tree fruits, tamarind fruits and mangoes to feed their kids and the household in general. Women use tree resources to make sure there’s a continuous production of food, that’s why it matters that they are involved in land resources decision making.
If women are not involved in the key decisions, it means that the landscape is being regenerated and restored through the vision of men only. Men are generally more interested in timber and tree species that provide fodder for the animals, so they focus on that.
I’m now working as a research scientist with the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, one of the Institutes of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, based in Kumasi. I got the job in early 2013 and am tasked with providing technical support to institutions and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) on practical adaptations to local agro-forestry interventions. On a day-to-day basis I advise on the interventions on the ground that are likely to yield the most success.
In Ghana, like many other parts of Africa, we need to be innovative to produce enough food and we also need to encourage people to integrate indigenous trees on their farmland. Right now, we’re teaching farmers pruning methods so they can manage regenerated tree species on their farmland and encourage growth rather than planting new trees. This is because the conditions are difficult and it’s not easy to get new planted species to grow. By encouraging what’s already there on the farms to grow healthily, it provides a micro-climate for introducing other species at a later date.
By getting women involved, we can change the whole nature of forestry management. The current patriarchal system is very much ingrained in Ghanaian belief systems and will not change overnight, but if we can change behaviours at the household level, gradually we could see a transformation across the landscape.
My ambition is to influence gender transformation and I’m finding new and innovative ways of breaking through the patriarchal system to make men listen to women’s expertise. These are big dreams for me.
I’d like to be remembered as one of the people who contributed to women’s voices being heard and actively reflected in land restoration. It is achievable – even if it takes a while – men here traditionally listen to their daughters more than their wives, so if we can approach it like that, helping daughters and sons to be raised equally, then hopefully the next generation and the one after that will change things.
I’ve been asked if I consider myself a feminist and I reply that if driving through equality makes me a feminist, then yes, I am one. I’m raising my six-year-old son to believe that everyone should be valued the same; whether you’re a boy or a girl, if you want to do it, it can be done.”