In a blog posting after an internal workshop on “gender and development in contexts of ethnic diversity” in Laos last year, I wrote that the effects of such workshops are inevitably difficult to quantify, and would certainly only be apparent after some time – six months to a year. Nearly 14 months later, here’s what two of those who participated in the workshop, our Gender and Social Equity (GSE) Focal Persons from Laos and Vietnam, have to say.
From Laos, Niphaphone Nampanya choses the project COPE (Community Organisation, Participation and Empowerment) as a particular example. She writes that staff decided to use a “tool” that they had learned about from Nepalese colleagues termed “ABC” – Attitude, Behaviour and Context. The project works with ethnic communities in the Northern highlands of Laos (Phongsaly Province), promoting sustainable livelihoods through fair trade value chains – particularly tea. The tool in question was tested it in six villages, four of which were of the Phounoi ethnic group, and two of Kor. In what is a basic gender analysis, they asked separate groups of women and men community members to identify who conducted which types of livelihood activities (broadly classified as reproductive, productive and social) – and then brought them together to compare and discuss the findings. This is where the analysis of attitudes, behaviour and context came in, as there were clear differences between the two ethnic groups. Whilst in both, women had the greater workloads, apparently amongst the Phounoi, the role of women in community decision-making is accepted, whereas amongst the Kor, it is not. It then became apparent in discussions that the different status of men and women is deep-rooted in cultural beliefs, and applies to many behaviours.
The practical follow-on from this exercise was to integrate a questioning of men and women’s roles into a training on tea bush pruning and processing. Whilst the sale of tea is a welcome source of income for the households concerned, it became apparent to everyone through the analysis and discussions that the majority of the labour – which is additional to regular activities – falls to women. This prompted reflection on what roles might be better shared – and the decision on the part of many of the Phounoi men to take responsibility for tea pruning, amongst other tasks. But, writes Niphaphone, this conclusion was not reached in the Kor villages: changing gendered roles there is a challenge that remains to be addressed this year. She further observes that whilst she was familiar with conducting gender analyses, the careful comparison of the differences between the Phounoi and Kor attitudes and beliefs was important in enabling project staff and villagers to better understand each other.
Hien Le, our GSE Focal Person in Vietnam also writes about working on gender in the context of tea cultivation – in this case, the Shan tea project, as well as in their Eco Cocoa project. The Shan tea project is in fact a regional intervention – operating in Laos and Myanmar as well as Vietnam. As in the COPE example, a discussion on the gendered nature of roles and how to reduce women’s workload has been introduced into practical trainings on tea cultivation and processing. The positive results that the project has had in working with ethnic Thai communities in Lai Chau Province caught the attention of a local journalist, who reported them in a newspaper article.
The perhaps obvious point from these two examples is the importance of involving both men and women, even if – or perhaps particularly, when – an intervention is mainly focused on women. A change in patterns of labour and income sources cannot be seen in isolation from other household and livelihood activities; taking time to discuss the implications can be time well spent. And differing viewpoints between different ethnic groups need to be factored in.
Hien Le adds that apart from placing more emphasis on gender issues in practical project interventions, she and her colleagues were inspired to organise a Gender Gala to raise staff awareness on gendered rights and discrimination. They also established collaboration with the Institute for Studies of Society, Economics and Environment (iSEE) in Vietnam on the rights of the LGBT community in Vietnam. She writes, “The Laos workshop remains in my mind as an important time for sharing and reflecting on gender and social equity issues. Together with other colleagues of HELVETAS partner countries we recognised the challenges of being a woman leader and proposed a leadership training which is now being taken up by Head Office. Back in my country, I have tried in a more systematic way to inspire my colleagues on this topic, and to think carefully about how to include particularly disadvantaged individuals in all our work. We have organized both formal and informal platforms to share our views and approaches in reaching out to our target groups, be it the ‘conventional’ poor women ethnic minority farmers to the emerging, increasingly recognized LGBT community.”