Gender inequality and environmental degradation are two of the most pressing challenges we are facing today, but they are not always seen as linked. An IUCN report earlier this year highlighted the pervasiveness of gender inequality relevant to our work in conservation, and noted that gender-based violence (GBV), an umbrella term covering any harmful act perpetrated against a person's will based on gender differences, was an issue which needed addressing in our field. The most recognisable form of GBV is probably sexual harassment, but the term covers a very broad spectrum.
The links between biodiversity conservation and GBV are complex. It can negatively affect staffing, which can undermine any organisation’s ability to operate effectively, for example. At the same time, actions to protect and conserve the environment can unintentionally worsen gender inequality in local communities, and cause an increase in GBV.
We started WildAct's Empowering Women in Conservation programme, together with Ngoc (Jade), our Technical Advisor for this programme. Ngoc started in June 2020 and her academic background is in arts and culture. She shared that to her the most striking difference between the social and natural science fields is that the latter field is noticeably male-dominated, and the ‘workplace’ is often rural and isolated. Both of these factors make women in particular vulnerable to GBV. Vietnamese culture, heavily influenced by Confucianism, has facilitated gender roles which make sexual harassment more possible. For centuries, women have been perceived and socially conditioned to be compliant and subordinate to men. Such traditional gender norms and our collective culture, which values harmony, along with lack of awareness on the issues and lack of respect for women’s rights cause women to be afraid to speak up about sexual harassment in any form.
Existing workplace guidelines, both formal or informal, usually ignore these issues, and there has been no research on attitudes or behaviours around the topic of GBV in the conservation and environmental field in Vietnam. With this in mind, and in a bold attempt to tackle workplace GBV in the conservation and environmental sector, WildAct has implemented the Empowering Women in Conservation Programme, aiming to make environmental and conservation work safer, more inclusive and more effective. To provide a baseline for this unique program, we will be conducting a survey on the most common form of GBV in the sector in the beginning of July, giving insight into the current situation around the issue.