Participants in a recent 10-week Leadership for Gender Inclusion program delivered by Griffith University in Laos with funding from the Australian Government have praised the unique opportunity.
Dee Yang, from Luang Prabang in northern Laos, said the course offered the chance to really impact local communities.
“Gender issues need to get the attention from us, and we, as men, should give the space to women to raise their voice in our community,” he said.
Dee was one of 20 Australian-Laos alumni who took part in the Laos Australia Institute program which saw participants develop projects over several months which could make a real difference in Laos organisations and community.
The diverse range of projects included training awareness programs, workplace factsheets, mentoring, campaigns for gender equality and disability inclusion as well as skills development programs like public speaking, family and economic support and other life skills.
Like most learning opportunities in the past year, COVID-19 meant many of the workshops became online sessions, rather than the intensive face-to-face sessions planned for Vientiane.
“It was great to see the ongoing engagement of all participants and flexibility when the program needed to be adjusted from hybrid to fully online,” she said.
“They connected and collaborated in mentoring sessions, interactive/real-time presentations, an online symposium, and expert panel sessions with women leaders from the private and public sectors.
“They also enjoyed some online social activities such as a wildlife and aboriginal artist session and Zumba classes.”
The program included five male and non-binary participants alongside 15 female participants from the government, educational institutes, private sector and international organisations.
“For the first time we have included allies of gender equality in our training,” Jane Chandler, Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Laos, explained.
“This is a really important step and only when we move the conversation away from gender equality being a women’s issue to gender equality being an issue that involves everyone in the community, will we see real progress happen.”
A panel discussion held on the final day of the program included reflections from several participants, including Visouda Viravong, the CEO and Founder of Wine House Laos.
“My journey as a participant in the Leadership Program for Gender Inclusion has been exceptionally educational, inspiring, encouraging and enlightening,” she said.
“I learned that no matter who you are, where you are, and what you do for a living, you can contribute to social changes – and this is what I will carry with me for the rest of my life”.
The virtual closing ceremony featured speeches from representatives for the Australian Embassy, Griffith and the University’s Laos program partner, the Gender Development Association.
Griffith University’s interdisciplinary delivery team included staff from Griffith Asia Institute, the Department of Business, Strategy and Innovation and the Policy Innovation Hub.
Associate Professor Tapan Sarker co-lead the project with Dr Haefner, and they were joined by GAI Director Professor Caitlin Byrne, Professor Susan Harris-Rimmer, Dr Elise Stephenson and Dr Dhara Shah.