Cambodia is growing and developing at an accelerated pace, and while this has created new opportunities for women, it has also reinforced, and in some cases exacerbated, existing gender inequalities. The country remains patriarchal, and women are still politically and economically marginalized.
This is particularly true for the forest sector, where even if women show a keen interest in forest management, their voice is barely heard and their participation in decision-making is often disregarded. Sokha, Maradi and Sopanha are three committed Cambodian women working for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Administration. They are members of the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) Gender Group, helping to make Cambodia’s efforts in forest management more gender-responsive.
“Men think that women are not capable nor interested in forest management activities,” says Maradi. “This is why women do not feel encouraged to participate.”
Common technical activities like forest patrolling and demarcation are dominated by men. Women tend to stay home and are deprived of any genuine engagement in forestry activities. “Women are only involved in the nursery and forest activities that are not very far from home,” says Sokha.
Women often have no choice but to assemble firewood and collect fruits and vegetables. “Cambodian culture believes women should work indoors rather than outdoors,” says Sopanha. “As a result, women are hesitant to work far from home, so we see less women are involved in forest patrolling activities and more in tree nurseries.”
Despite these challenges, women are increasingly positioning themselves to find their place in forest management. Their involvement in forest management has been proven to be crucial in improving sustainable forest management. As the book, Gender and Green Governance, notes, a higher proportion of women participants in local institutions of forest governance is directly linked to significantly greater improvement in forest conditions and conservation. In addition, their knowledge of biological diversity, as well as resources such as wild mushrooms, tubers and bamboo shoots, is essential. However, climate change impacts on forests have resulted in reduced crops yields, which, in turn, have had a devastating effect on the livelihoods of women and their families.
In response, Cambodia has been working in collaboration with the UN-REDD Programme and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and other organizations to implement REDD+. With FCPF support, Cambodia is strengthening policies and institutional capacities to support gender equality in forestry at national, subnational and local levels. A number of activities have been implemented, including gender trainings and workshops.
Sopanha believes that “making government officers aware of gender issues through trainings is important to supporting an integrated gender perspective and reducing the gender gap.”
For Sokha, “there is an indirect impact on local communities when women are invited to join the meetings and trainings.” She says having both women and men actively and equitably involved in decision-making can bring about significant improvement to forest management.
For the REDD+ Gender Group, the next step will be working with national technical teams to mainstream gender into the National REDD+ Strategy Action and Investment Plan. Several trainings will be carried out to reach subnational REDD+ projects, raise awareness and enhance gender consideration through all REDD+ programmes and activities.