Rising to the challenge: Creating safe spaces for women and men in forest communities

03 May 2023
Ei Ei Htwe
Are we doing enough to address gender inequalities and gender-based violence in forest landscape management?
Practitioner's Insights
Community forest member Thon Phanny collects non-timber forest products in O Taneung Community Forest in Cambodia’s Kratie Province.
Community forest member Thon Phanny collects non-timber forest products in O Taneung Community Forest in Cambodia’s Kratie Province.

Some social and cultural norms in rural Cambodia permit women to be viewed as inferior to men. Low appreciation of women can make them a target of bullying, discrimination, and harassment at work or during daily activities. For example, in community protected areas, women forest patrollers face violence and threats from men caught in illegal activities. This form of violence against women prevents them from participating more meaningfully in community forest management.  

Gender-based violence and harassment is a critical issue in Cambodia, especially in rural areas. Social and cultural norms often discount women’s roles and prevent them from equitably accessing natural resources. These norms also limit women’s participation and leadership in managing community protected areas. In rural communities, there is a limited acceptance of the vital role of women in sustainable forest management. This creates barriers to effective sustainable development, forest landscape management, and women’s participation in development programs.  

Starting this May, RECOFTC and Gender and Development for Cambodia will work together to improve women’s full, effective and safe participation in Cambodia’s community protected areas. Their initiative is one of five new projects across Central America, Eastern and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia that will address gender-based violence related to climate change and environmental degradation with support from the Resilient, Inclusive and Sustainable Environments (RISE) grant challenge. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) manages the RISE grant challenge with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It will run from May 2023 to December 2024.   

Through the RISE grant, RECOFTC and Gender and Development for Cambodia will work to change attitudes, social norms and behaviour at individual, interpersonal and community levels. Their work will allow communities to create new positive norms for gender equality. RISE also aims to build awareness and capacity of community leaders within community protected areas networks, and to engage men and boys as allies in combatting gender-based violence. The Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs will be partners to collaborate with youth, women, civil society, and similar organizations that work on environment, forestry and gender issues. 

Woman working in the forest
Thon Phanny measures a tree trunk during a dead wood collection in O Taneung Community Forest, Kratie Province, Cambodia.  

A positive change in social norms and behaviours within the community protected areas networks will reduce gender-based violence and barriers to women's participation. With RISE, we will help build stronger women’s participation and leadership in community protected areas networks.   

In the end, RISE envisions an enabling environment for women to have a stronger and more equitable role in the management of community protected areas. Women will be able to claim benefits, influence and manage forest resources. More importantly, the community protected areas networks will be safe spaces where women can fully enjoy their rights with respect and dignity in their community.   


Ei Ei Htwe is senior program officer for gender equality and social inclusion at RECOFTC.  

RECOFTC’s work is made possible with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.