Promoting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in the Mekong region’s small-scale forest sector

Women play significant roles and contribute to the sustainable management of forests and forest-related businesses at the household and community level. Enhancing women’s capacity and participation in economic activities in the forest sector can boost rural livelihoods, increase their inclusion in sustainable forest resource use, and reduce deforestation and forest degradation. However, women often do not benefit equally and their participation in decision-making processes has been restricted.

Key messages

  • Official data, literature on gender-related issues and field interviews indicate that significant challenges remain in awareness and practice of gender equality by wood-based MSMEs in the Mekong region’s timber processing sector.
  • Gender equality through women’s economic empowerment and participation is enshrined in the national regulatory and policy frameworks of the four Mekong countries targeted by EFI’s Forest Smallholders Project – Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. However, the implementation of gender commitments by the four Mekong countries has been challenging and the gaps in the MSME context remain large.
  • Multiple obstacles have hindered efforts to promote women’s economic empowerment and opportunities among wood-based MSMEs. These include:
    • Labour-intensive production among wood-based MSMEs makes it difficult for women to be as competitive a workforce as men.
    • In rural communities and village institutions, patriarchal social norms still strictly and conventionally define the roles of men and women. Some of these norms restrict women’s mobility and participation in skill development training and business networking opportunities.
    • There is limited financing support for women in small-scale business operations
  • EFI’s approach to promoting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment among MSMEs is to integrate gender into the pilots’ activities by encouraging women’s participation in trainings and using technical topics as an entry point for raising awareness about gender issues in the workplace. This approach enabled EFI to overcome the resistance of business owners who tend to consider the topic as irrelevant to their businesses.
  • The briefing proposes five recommendations to pursue gender equality in the small-scale forest sector: 1) enhance technical capacities and leadership of women-led enterprises, 2) support networks and business connections among women in wood-based MSMEs, 3) increase awareness on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment among supporting entities, 4) facilitate cross-sectoral multistakeholder partnerships on gender equality, 5) generate information and knowledge about women in wood-based MSMEs.