Making waves for gender equality in Asia-Pacific’s natural resources sector

Gender leaders in Lao PDR are building a future where everyone can benefit from the country's rich natural resources. © RECOFTC, 2019

Gender champions from Lao PDR met in the country’s capital to attend a three-day training session on gender in the forestry sector. The workshop was held from 17 to 19 September in Vientiane Capital. It took place under WAVES, a regional program that was launched in March 2019 to reduce the inequalities that exist in natural resource landscapes across the Asia-Pacific.

With the program more than 30 gender leaders from government institutions, civil society, academia, and community-based associations across the region receive support to cultivate leadership skills, implement concrete actions focused on gender equality and promote institutional change.

At the first WAVES event in March 2019, the 30 leaders learned skills that will help them use their leadership positions to promote gender equality. They also prepared tentative action plans that they could implement in their work.

Prioritizing gender equality in Lao PDR

RECOFTC’s Lao Country Program, in collaboration with the Department of Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, conducted the three-day Consultation Workshop and Training Skills Development in Gender and Forestry. The aim was to strengthen gender knowledge and training skills of 10 leaders, eight women and two men, from state forestry agencies and civil society organizations.

The participants discussed their progress, identified challenges and developed strategies to tackle them. They also learned how to incorporate adult learning principles into training design and delivery. They then designed and practiced training sessions on gender integration for people working in the forestry sector.

Participants collaborate at the training
Participants at the training collaborate together and strategize on how to strengthen gender equality in their institutions. © RECOFTC, 2019

The program has a strong presence in Lao PDR, where it works with five WAVES leaders, and is supported by senior government leaders outside of the program, including Boualy Phameuang, deputy director-general of the Department of Forestry.

“The government, especially the forestry sector, fully supports a vision for Lao PDR that prioritizes gender equality and women’s engagement and involvement at the provincial and central levels,” said Boualy Phameuang.

One way the Department of Forestry and its gender leaders are pursuing change is by strengthening capacities for supporting gender-inclusive policy and extension. A key step to realizing this change requires creating a team with skills to design and deliver training sessions for people whose participation in forestry is crucial. These audiences include high-level officials within the Department of Forestry, senior policymakers in Lao PDR’s natural resource ministries and officials who implement policies on-the-ground.

“We encourage gender leaders and their allies to take leadership and actions that will achieve higher results,” said Boualy Phameuang.

Sisomephet Souvanthalisith, director of Women’s Advancement and Mother and Children Division of the Permanent Secretariat Office, facilitated the training alongside Kalpana Giri, a senior program officer at RECOFTC.

Sisomepheth Souvanthalisith speaks at the training
Sisomepheth Souvanthalisith, director of Women’s Advancement and Mother and Children Division of the Permanent Secretariat Office, speaks at the training. © RECOFTC, 2019

Shifting the paradigm of gender equality

“Across the Asia-Pacific, individuals and communities are acknowledging the power of gender equity,” said Giri, who coordinates the WAVES project. “These leaders realize that the time is now to create a balanced and better world, and are doing so by using their voices and positions to move the paradigm of gender equality.”

As examples, Giri points to civil society organizations in Thailand that are raising their concerns about how a new Community Forestry Bill will influence women’s access and rights to non-timber forest products and other natural resources. And in Indonesia, a professor at the University of Hasanuddin is transforming forestry education by including gender topics in the curriculum.

“These emerging trends suggest that gender roles are changing,” Giri said. “As gender moves out of rhetorical policy and into concrete actions, opportunities will arise to create a more equitable world. Now, more than ever before, a bold focus is needed. There is space for the environmental sector to turn the critical mass of women actors into a force that can bring about concrete changes for gender equality. If it does not, an opportunity for progress will be lost.”

WAVES is developed and implemented by RECOFTC, with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).