Research conducted by Rebecca Waite, 2009
Rwanda is a population-dense, landlocked country lacking many natural resources.1 Overwhelmed by a high population growth rate of 2.8 percent, the small nation is particularly susceptible to environmental conflicts.2 Eighty-seven percent of Rwandans are farmers, who depend on biomass, particularly wood, for their energy needs.3 Many rely on slash-and-burn agriculture, and are forced to return to areas that should remain fallow longer for better nutrient retention due to the immense competition for land. This is an especially serious problem in areas where the family land is divided for the next generation of males — as families expand, the amount of space allotted to each son shrinks. When these small land plots are overused, the soil is rapidly depleted of essential nutrients. As a result, crops become difficult to grow, and malnutrition drives families to forested areas, where a newly burned plot can provide for the season. An emerging trend of changing grassland where herds graze into cropland has also decreased levels of nutrients in soil, since less manure is available to use as fertilizer.4 Much of the forest has also been cleared to build homes for returnees from the genocide. Other causes of deforestation include the extraction of products such as charcoal, medicine, food, and gold.5
Deforestation in Rwanda has caused increased levels of erosion, poor water retention in soils, and the loss of tremendous biodiversity. Moreover, the competition for land and accessible natural resources required for people's day-to-day lives causes social tension within families and the community at-large.6 Domestic violence and sexual exploitation are prevalent in parts of Rwanda, and competition for limited supplies of firewood can trigger such violence. Without the necessary fuel source, meals may not be prepared on time, provoking men to beat their wives. Additionally, children may be asked to wander deep into the receding woods for firewood, where they are easy targets for rape.
The Be Ready project team has noted that domestic violence and sexual exploitation of young children due to the limited wood supply are prevalent in their community in southwest Rwanda. By training women and men about women's rights and domestic violence issues, constructing more fuel efficient stoves, and planting trees for firewood, they believe that men will show less violent tendencies, and children will be at decreased risk for sexual exploitation. The team hopes to reduce the number of domestic abuse victims and violated children, and facilitate peace for the community's 250 families.
Global Grassroots' Conscious Social Change Programs mobilize women to advance grassroots solutions benefiting women. Projects like Be Ready demonstrate that addressing critical environmental issues like deforestation can also help mitigate several of the underlying factors of violence against women.
5http://www.rwandagateway.org/article.php3?id_article=92 and http://www1.american.edu/ted/ice/rwanda.htm
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