Keywords: Periyar Tiger Reserve, biodiversity conservation, women self-help groups, India, female empowerment, natural resource degradation, rural women, microfinance, ecodevelopment committees, biomass extraction, environmental protection, developing countries
Women empowerment for biodiversity conservation through self help groups: a case from Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala, India
Enormous change has been observed since Self-help Groups (SHGs) were initiated and after their members started patrolling the forests to restrict illegal stem cutting, grazing, and other natural resource degradation process. In this paper, we demonstrate how the rural women pool money and run a microfinance system to tide over temporary financial stringencies arising from time to time. They conduct a cross section of economic activities such as community horticulture, provision shop, running pig farms, making household utensils, and door-to-door vending of essential household items. They are instrumental in sorting out inter-family and intra-family disputes. All their functions have now been institutionalised through SHGs. The sanctuary has also benefited by the formation of SHGs. The Ecodevelopment Committees (EDCs) and SHGs stand as a social fence along the fringes. The most remarkable thing is that the SHGs have formed a separate women's group for patrolling in the forest. This special group is called 'Vasantha Sena' (Green Force). A group of six to eight women patrol everyday from 11 am to 5 pm in the forest voluntarily, without claiming any form of remuneration. Their presence in the forest during daytime not only discourages illegal entry but also controls biomass extraction. Periyar is emerging as a role model of women empowerment for biodiversity conservation.