The Role of Bamboo in Empowering Women
Updated: Oct 27
The role of bamboo in alleviating rural poverty has been well documented. The highly versatility and fast growing ‘miracle plant’ grows locally to some of the poorest communities in the world, generating income and livelihoods for millions across the world - many of whom are women. Thanks to its accessibility and unique properties, bamboo cultivation and processing has provided a great resource of financial income to rural women. Here we discuss the role of bamboo in helping to socially and financially empower women across the world.
In comparison to timber, bamboo is very lightweight and easy to handle. It does not always require the use of expensive and heavy machinery for processing - making it much easier for female farmers to be involved in its cultivation and processing. As one of the fastest growing plants in the world, it can also be harvested annually once mature, providing a sustainable source of income for women.
Drawing on a long history of use, bamboo is also incredibly versatile and offers great scope for the involvement of women in the production of goods. As a great alternative to wood, bamboo can be used for almost anything - from paper and flooring, to furniture and everyday items such as chopsticks, bicycle frames and musical instruments. Some of the more recent bamboo based products include soaps, lotions and pain relievers.
Importantly, many bamboo products build upon rural women’s inherent and existing skills. The production of bamboo textiles, for instance, relies on traditional skills that women possess, such as weaving and sewing. Thus, as the global bamboo market size continues to grow - alongside the increasing awareness of moving towards environmentally-friendly products - so does the opportunity for women’s involvement in income generation from bamboo.
Many studies have shed light on the effect of women’s involvement in the bamboo industry in increasing self-esteem and securing women’s positions in political and economical life. At INBAR, many of their livelihood projects have centred around women - helping tens of thousands earn their first incomes, with some going on to create their own successful businesses.
For women such as Gloria Asare Adu, who participated in a training course offered by INBAR in 2001 where she learnt of the multiple uses of bamboo by visiting a number of bamboo plantations in China, the bamboo industry has had a big impact. “Bamboo has done so much in my life. It has changed me completely. I’m so happy we now have women in the industry in my country". Gloria went on to create her own company, Global Bamboo Products Ltd., which now focuses on the production of bamboo briquettes and charcoal. For bamboo furniture maker Giraben, from Gujarat in India, the success of her own bamboo company provided her with “not just income, but also gained respect. Now, not only our community members but other communities too have approached my husband and me for our advice on social matters, and we get invitations to social functions, festivals, cultural events and marriages”.
In one of the major bamboo growing states in India, Tripura - where a third of the total area is covered in bamboo - bamboo handicrafts have provided self-employment to many rural women. In a long-term project run by INBAR and the NGO TRIPAC, over 3,000 women were involved in developing an incense stick production chain with a number setting up their own incense stick businesses within it.
Such cases have shown bamboo’s potential in empowering women financially and increasing their independence. Indeed, with more awareness and training, and a larger global bamboo economy, these ‘miracle plants’ could help create further jobs, livelihoods and help the move towards gender equality.