“Forest work is men’s work.”
“Jobs that need technical knowledge, physical strength and skillfulness are better suited for men.”
“Women’s key duties are being mothers and caregivers.”
These gender norm statements have been characteristic of a traditional line of thinking present in the forestry sector of Viet Nam and other countries worldwide. However, these types of gender biases should not continue to be perpetuated in our modern world – where the importance of equality of both sexes is acknowledged.
With their essential contributions in many facets of the forestry sector, women have been key participators. In forest plantations, they often take over nursery and seedling production. At the household production level, it is primarily women who are responsible for household consumption needs (e.g. medicinal herbs, fuelwood, wild foods, and fodder) and selling NTFPs in local markets. They, too, share in the responsibilities of thinning and pruning, forest rehabilitation, and enrichment planting3 4. Female leadership is also visible on the national level, with nearly 25% of the upper-level leadership positions in the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry occupied by women.
…. SIGNIFICANT GAPS ARE STILL VISIBLE
The existing gender disparities, however, act as a barrier, preventing female foresters from achieving their full capabilities and ensuring a fair and equal industry. Various studies (as cited in the Sources section of this article) show that women’s tasks are especially focused on low-return activities while men tend to have more control over high-value production, thereby generating more income3 4. It is also measured that women are primarily involved in financial accounting and administrative tasks, as well as in marketing and selling of products. Men are often involved in managing the plantation and related timber production process, along with the interaction with public authorities and associations3.
“Paying attention to gender equality helps increase work efficiency in enterprises. This is achieved through individuals having their capacity fully and fairly promoted, facilitated according to needs and capacities and regardless of their gender” – shared by Mr. Tran Quoc Hung from Ben Hai Forestry Company, Quang Tri.
On the other hand, women have fewer opportunities to join in forestry planning and capacity development programmes, which results in their hindrance of knowledge of agroforestry specialties5.
Inequality – reinforced by the aforementioned factors combined with the local power structure and social norms – is also reflected in their difficulties in accessing legal and financial services as well as technology. Regarding the decision-making processes, women still occupy a small portion of leadership positions (see table 1). It can therefore be deduced that women’s needs and interests are potentially less likely to be heard2.
FOREST POLICIES TO TACKLE GENDER INEQUALITY
The Vietnamese government has taken numerous actions to tackle gender inequality in the forestry sector. The Law on Forestry [2017, Article 9(8) and Article 14(7)] prohibits discrimination based on gender in forest allocation and forest lease and requires transparency and the involvement of local people. Meanwhile, translating from the National Strategy on Gender Equality in the 2021-2030 period and other national Gender laws and policies, in 2022, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) adpoted its Action Plan on Gender Equality (2021-2025). The overall objective of this Action Plan is to continuously close the gender gap, facilitate and create opportunities for both men and women to participate and enjoy equal benefits in the agriculture and rural development sector. They also further involve gender aspects in all new legal documents submitted to the National Assembly, including the Law on Crop Production and the Law on Livestock Production (MARD 2020). Along with other ministries, MARD has established the Committees for the Advancement of Women (CFAW). These same institutions and plans developed at the ministerial level have been subsequentially implemented downstream at the local levels.
These efforts – together with a Viet Nam Forestry Development Strategy that includes gender-specific clauses – have shaped a legal framework for cultivating gender equality in the sector. However, there are still opinions stating that the law lacks specific guidance on how to guarantee that these clauses are implemented systematically1 3.