In Cambodia, forestry is perceived as a male domain, while broader patriarchal attitudes are an impediment to women’s inclusion across several sectors. A provincial commune council chief in Cambodia was quite blunt in his assessment, “Forest management is men’s work. Women are too physically weak to patrol and is dangerous for them. They are also not interested and if we try to include them it is more work for us to ensure their safety.”.
Such perspectives are not uncommon. Women’s marginalisation is evident from forest management at the grassroots level to decision-making bodies at the institutional level. In 2012, the Cambodian government decided to take a bold step to address this situation and agreed to serve as a pilot country in a regional initiative on women’s inclusion in REDD+. This was jointly conducted in partnership by UNDP through the UN-REDD Programme, USAID Lowering Emissions in Asia's Forests (LEAF) and Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN). This innovative collaboration between multilateral, bilateral and NGO partners aimed to identify critical gender gaps and recommend strategic interventions to elevate women’s meaningful and equitable participation in REDD+. UNDP supported country activities though leveraging strong country-level relationships with stakeholders that were interviewed for their valuable perspectives on gender and REDD+.
In order to get a handle on the scale of the problem in Cambodia, the initiative started with a national REDD+ gender analysis in 2013. When it came to women’s participation in policy setting and institutions, several obstacles were identified. These included amongst others cultural barriers and a lack of awareness; the absence of clear quotas for women’s participation and limited finance and capacity to address gender concerns.
The government took swift action in response to these findings and in 2014 set up an inter-ministerial REDD+ Gender Group to help guide REDD+ efforts across the country. The REDD+ Gender Group was composed of government representatives nominated by the four agencies critical to REDD+ and gender issues (Forestry Administration, Fisheries Administration, Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Women’s Affairs). The objectives were primarily to build awareness on gender and women’s empowerment among members of the national REDD+ bodies and to advise on gender mainstreaming and inclusion in the National REDD+ Strategy and associated implementation guidelines. The REDD+ Gender Group was established with the help of UNDP, who provided several rounds of capacity building to support them in these functions.
 Officially defined as “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks”, REDD+ incentivizes developing countries to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
The REDD+ Gender Group commenced with specific activities focused on shifting attitudes and perceptions concerning gender roles. This was channeled through awareness raising and capacity building workshops targeted at the national REDD+ bodies. Casting its net wider, the REDD+ Gender Group has creatively used public media to build a broader awareness campaign on REDD+ and gender to reach a bigger audiences and introduced media tools such as dedicated radio talk show and programmes on national television.
The REDD+ Gender Group has actively examined the intersection of gender equality, women’s empowerment and REDD+, and developed, with technical support from UNDP, a Gender Checklist to assist in the review of the draft National REDD+ Strategy. As a result of this work, the 2017-2026 National REDD+ Strategy (NRS) integrates gender elements into one of its guiding principles and in the guidelines for monitoring and evaluation. In addition to this, the REDD+ Gender Group is recognized formally as part of national REDD+ institutional arrangements.
To help support the implementation of the NRS, a National REDD+ Action and Investment Plan was recently drafted in July 2019. In support of the REDD+ Gender Group, a Gender-Focused Review of REDD+ efforts was commissioned in 2018 by UNDP and the national REDD+ Taskforce in partnership with WOCAN to identify entry points for mainstreaming gender within the REDD+ Action and Investment Plan. The resulting recommendations ensured that Cambodia’s REDD+ strategies and policies during implementation are guided by a socially inclusive and gender responsive approach.
Moreover, the 2018 Gender-Focused Review found that the REDD+ Gender Group has clearly influenced the various government ministries involved in REDD+, a number of which have since adopted gender responsive plans and activities. It was also noted that awareness and motivation to integrate gender is high among the national and subnational staff in key government departments. Five years on from its creation, the efforts of the Cambodian government and the REDD+ Gender Group appear to be paying off, with palpable changes in attitude and increased commitment to address gender in REDD+.
“I want to engage more community women in forest management work, but I find it difficult to mobilize and convince them to participate. I also want to be trained so that I have the same level of skill as local NGO staff who are good at engaging women.” This statement from a district Forestry Administration officer from Kampong Thom province shows the evolution of understanding and openness to learn from other partners. Project implementers and local authorities are encouraging women’s participation in REDD+ project activities, particularly in general meetings and tree planting activities. In sites visited by researchers who conducted the 2018 Gender-Focused Review, they have concluded that on average 60-70% of participants in these activities were women.
Of course, there is still a long way to go for Cambodia to reverse all the negative attitudes that persist, both in institutions and in the confidence of women themselves. “Right now, we feel that we are closely scrutinized and feel insecure to speak and give our opinions. When we speak, we are always corrected by men and told to assess the implications of our statements before speaking”, reflected a woman from Kampong Thom, the same province as the earnest forestry officer.
“If more women are included in both patrolling and forest management committees, and are trained and paid as men, then we are happy to participate and our husbands might allow us too,” she concluded. In order to respond to women’s call for support, efforts are currently being made in Cambodia’s REDD+ work, including through the National REDD+ Action and Investment Plan, to continue break down gender barriers and help change these pervasive patterns and perceptions of women in forestry. If Cambodia’s REDD+ stakeholders can maintain the same level of introspection and dedication going forwards, there is hope that change will come.
Acknowledgements: This knowledge product was coordinated, written and edited from UNDP Climate and Forests Team: Celina (Kin Yii) Yong, Elizabeth Eggerts and Ela Ionescu
Originally published in the Gender Equality Newsletter Vol. 4