In 2020, SEI Asia produced an online course that looked at various aspects of gender, environment and sustainability and the connections between them. The course aimed to make concepts and practice in the field more accessible and understandable to civil society, policymakers and researchers. Using a mix of multimedia, video case studies, and dialogues with gender experts, the course is especially designed for non-native English speakers who often face language barriers with development discourse.
We talked to Ha Nguyen, gender expert in SEI Asia, one of the lead producers of the online course, about how this teaching material was produced, how it is different to other available courses, and what challenges were overcome, particularly when doing online learning.
The course aims to “address gender inequality in environment and natural resources management.” Why was it important for the course to be online? How is this course different to other gender end environment courses?A
In many countries in the Asian region gender inequality in environmental issues is often viewed as a “battle” between women and men, to gain better access to land, forest, or water, taking place both at the household and community levels. In other words, gender inequality is perceived a local-level issue that can be resolved by increasing women’s access to resources, and by including women in male arenas of decision-making. Interventions are therefore confined to the local level.
Unlike many gender courses, we wanted to offer a different perspective to gender inequality by showing how macro–level economic and political policies can produce an unequal distribution of impact and benefits when they interact with gender norms and social hierarchy at the local level. In the online course, we call attention to issues of power at different scales.
We show how individuals can have multiple identities, such as being a female urban worker, ethnic community cash–crop farmer, and so on. The multiple identities of the individuals often result in discrimination, privilege and exclusion within communities or social groups. We attempt to explain how inequality is produced through social and economic structures. At the same time, we warn of the dangers of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to addressing gender inequality that is usually favoured by development projects, donors and multilateral development banks in the name of “integrating gender concerns.”
There are many different dimensions to gender and environment. Tell us the key focus areas for this online course and the reasons for choosing them.A
Our course has two main modules: one on agriculture and water, and the other on climate change and disasters. We chose these themes because agriculture and water are critical to the livelihoods of the majority of the population in this part of the world, while climate change and disasters pose a great threat to both livelihoods and natural resources.
In addition, policies and processes in relation to these topics shape inequality and produce new forms of vulnerability. For example, we show how the cash crop economy, commercialized agriculture and new technology can often disadvantage poorer households and women farmers. Not everyone benefits equally. At the same time, well-intentioned efforts to reduce inequality can sometimes worsen existing vulnerabilities.
We used both real and hypothetical case studies using our past work and experience in Asia to bring out key ideas and insights into gender approaches. For example, a hypothetical case study of a pulp mill illustrates intersectionality – that is, how multiple forms of discrimination, based on gender, race, sexuality, and class, can overlap; a case of a fishing community in southern Lao PDR shows how environmental conservation and participatory approaches can be “gender-blind”, where well-intentioned conservation efforts finally result in depriving fisherwomen of access to their fishing grounds rather than empowering them. And using the case of the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, we show how policies aimed at reducing disaster risk can worsen gender inequality by treating women as a homogenous social group.
By pointing to how political and economic systems reproduce inequalities, we encourage our learners to question the conventional approach that focuses solely on the inclusion of women in projects at local and household levels. Through this we show learners that the solutions cannot ignore structural issues that are the real cause of gender inequality.
Teaching about gender and environment involves academic concepts. For example, how did you present concepts like “feminist political ecology?”A
In initial discussions of the learning materials, we tried to see how to explain this term. But when we reached the final production stage, we decided to intentionally avoid using the term. Instead of trying to explain this complex perspective as a whole, we wrote the script to break it down into different areas, such as power, scale, and intersectionality, using concepts and examples that participants are more familiar with: for example access to and control over resources, vulnerability in disasters and climate change, and privilege and marginalization.
We used the case of Fish Conservation Zones (FCZs) in the Mekong Region, based on our work about the gender dimensions of water insecurity and governance. This helped bring out how fisherwomen are not recognized as the principal fishers, although they work alongside their husbands in fishing activities. Fisherwomen are also excluded from meetings and training organized by the local fishery management agencies, because women are not considered as heads of households.
The course was designed by the SEI Asia gender research team, as well as gender experts Dr Bernadette P. Resurreccion and Dr Andrea Raluca Torre, both formerly of SEI. We were greatly helped by many social scientists and feminist scholars who also feature in the online course, including Dr Clara Mi Young Park, Regional Gender Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); ecologist Dr Irene Dankelman, Professor at the Centre for Sustainable Management of Resources, Radboud University; and Sangita Thebe Limbu, who has expertise in gender, disasters and development.
Interactivity is a huge challenge for online teaching compared with conventional teaching. How did you overcome it, and what would you do better next time?A
Given the complex nature of these concepts, we needed to make the online learning as interesting and engaging as possible. In this course, we used a wide combination of methods: lectures, storytelling, podcasts and short videos, quizzes combined with reference materials, and short narratives using animation.
The use of animation really helps, but it also involved many hours of scripting and discussions which were also creative and fun. In total, the course has four animation stories of around 50 minutes, five podcasts of almost 20 minutes, and four videos where we enacted dialogues, with different roles played by our team members.
In order to make the course more interactive, we also encourage participants to share feedback and comments at the end of each module and also for the whole course. We then respond to the individual comments as specifically as we can to provide participants with a more individualized learning or exchange of information.
We hope it worked! So far, 271 people have registered and there has been a lot of positive feedback about their learning. For example, one participant said, “This was a very informative and insightful learning for research scholars, thinkers and development practitioners. The takeaways from the course are multiple and enhance one’s existing understanding of gender and environment, and also gender ‘in’ environment.”
If there’s a next time, we will try to make it even more interactive for participants and easier for our experts to exchange ideas and share experiences with our learners. Finding new ways to increase interaction with learners remains a challenge for online learning.
How will this help a policymaker in the Mekong when they complete the course? How can they put their learning into practice?A
A key audience for this online course is regional policymakers. This course offers policymakers the opportunity to learn critical perspectives on policies and policymaking on gender inequality. We make them question their assumptions about whether policies are gender neutral, and whether their policies and decisions actually reinforce and reproduce existing inequalities or help to solve them.
By considering women as homogenous group, policymakers contribute to exacerbating inequality experienced by women, especially in disadvantaged backgrounds, for example, women of lower caste, little education, or without access to land or fisheries. We hope this course opens the eyes of policymakers to the different dimensions of gender inequality in environmental decision-making and helps them seek ways of examining and addressing inequality in their work and decisions in their countries.
Access the course
Learn about gender and environment through our online course.