Promoting gender equality through leadership in Southeast Asia
06, April 2021
Women in the forestry sector must have the same opportunities and respect afforded to men. WAVES is working toward a social transformation.
Notes from the Field
More than 100 people participated in the online regional workshop on 29 to 31 March 2021 where WAVES leaders and supporters shared achievements and commitment to improving gender equality in the forestry sector.
Saraswati Aryal’s parents were never disappointed that they did not have a son. Despite the patriarchal nature of Nepali society, they were happy with three daughters, Aryal told participants at an online WAVES workshop in March 2021. It wasn’t until Aryal became a forester in her home country that she encountered the stereotypes that limit women’s pursuit of their ambitions.
“Forestry is not safe for females. Why don’t you choose some other profession?”, she heard at her university and in her job as forest officer at the Division Forest Office of Bagmati Province.
Two thousand kilometres southeastward in Viet Nam, Mai Quang Huy listened to similar remarks about women while working for a company that produces and trades in timber, resin, forest seedlings and herbs.
“Women work in forestry? Women patrol in the forest? Come on,” he would hear male colleagues say disparagingly in his business dealings in Viet Nam.
And in some cases, gender discrimination in the forestry sector is even written into law.
“Until recently, pregnant women were not allowed to attend training in accordance with a ministerial regulation,” said Kusdamayanti, who works in the Indonesian government.
Aryal, Huy and Kusdamayanti know firsthand that men in the forestrysector in general, and forestry companies in particular, do not treat women and men equally. As a result, women’s career options are often limited, and they face gender-prejudiced work arrangements and harassment.
Turning the tide on gender inclusion
Aryal, Huy and Kusdamayanti are gender leaders with WAVES, a RECOFTC initiative to cultivate leadershipand deepen the impact of gender leaders across the Asia-Pacific region. WAVES works toward social transformationacross the forestry sector, including in climate change and REDD+ programs, law enforcement, governance and policies.
RECOFTC launched WAVES in 2019 with 31 leaders. Today, it supports more than 90 women and men gender leaders working in government, politics, academia, civil society, communities and news media.
At the March 2021 virtual workshop, WAVES gender leaders assessed the impact their work is having in their countries. They reported on encouraging changes in work practices, curricula, training opportunities and policies. Here are a few highlights.
“We started a regular webinar series to drive conversations about women’s leadership, safe workspaces and sexual harassment,” she says. “We focused on young students whoare more at risk of sexual harassment online and at school or work. We then launched a social media campaign against cyber bullying and sexual harassment, which was led by both female and male youth.”
The campaign sparked discussions in Nepal’s forestry sector and beyond about the urgent need to have safe and dignified workspaces for women. It also established sexual harassment as a problem that must be addressed in forest workspaces.
In Viet Nam
Now the director of his company,Huy has made efforts to ensure that human resources management is guided by gender-friendlypolicies and that working spaces are safe for women. His company has conducted a gender analysis, held regular gender meetings, revised job descriptions to highlight the work done by both men and women, and developed transparent key performance indicators.
And in Indonesia
Kusdamayanti heads the Bogor Training Center for Extension Agencies and Human Resource Development Agencies in Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry. She worked with colleagues to change the ministerial regulation that prohibited pregnant women from attending training to upgrade their skills. Now, they can participate with medical clearance. She also spearheaded efforts to make other significant changes for women in the ministry.
“We set up a day-care facility for trainees’ children,” she says. “And we are putting a plan in place to revise an existing training curriculum for forest extension workers to help them understand the gender realities of their work. The new training prepares extension workers to help communities stop unfair or abusive practices.”
Under Kusdamayanti’s leadership, the Training Center has become a gender-responsive institution. It is now working on a program goal of cultivating 1,000 gender leaders at the Ministry’s Training and Extension Department by 2021.
Protecting and respecting equal rights for all
These stories reveal just some of the reforms that gender leaders are making to address structural barriers. Yet, the changes came with challenges and risks: all three faced resistance and mockery from their colleagues and peers, who questioned their leadership and undermined their technical expertise. Yet they remain determined to implement these reforms, drawing upon the WAVES’ network, conceptual training and skill development to support them and their work.
With funding from Sweden, RECOFTC implements WAVES as a response to the many barriers to gender equality that are embedded in the forestry and natural resource management sector across the region. The program reflects an important partnership to link Sweden’s feminist foreign policy objectives with local communities and leaders on the ground.
“The goal is to contribute to secure, just and inclusive democratic societies that protect and respect the equal rights of all,” said Äsa Hedén, head of development cooperation for the Asia-Pacific region at the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok. “Sweden contributes to WAVES to strengthen the leadership skills of individuals by enhancing their expertise in gender issues and ways to overcome gender inequality and change norms.”
“The goal is to contribute to secure, just and inclusive democratic societies that protect and respect the equal rights of all.” Äsa Hedén, Embassy of Sweden to Thailand
Underlining the progress and the extensive work remaining, RECOFTC Executive Director David Ganz told workshop participants that the WAVES leaders are the frontline actors driving institutional change. The WAVES initiative aims to scale up its activities to ensure that the network’s impact is sustainable and to continue building the capacity of its leaders.
“We have a strong foundation to build on,” said Ganz. “But to make gender equality the business norm in the forestry sector and development cooperation, we must fill the huge gaps in investments and accountability.”
The Weaving Leadership for Gender Equality (WAVES) initiative enhances leadership skills and supports the capacity of leaders to advocate for gender equality. RECOFTC implements WAVES with support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). For more information on WAVES visit this page.