That’s a wrap – Progressing Gender Inclusion and supporting Laos’ diverse community

Friday 28th May was the final day and graduation from the ‘Leadership for Gender Inclusion’ program for 20 Laos Australia Alumni participants. The online closing ceremony linking Laos and Australia together was a celebration and acknowledgement of the participants leadership skills development.

Throughout the 10-week program, participants developed project plans which aim to have real impact in Lao organisations and community. The projects included: the development of training awareness programs; factsheets for the workplace; mentoring programs; awareness campaigns for gender equality and disability inclusion; and skills development programs such as public speaking, family and economic support and life skills.

‘We can’t wait to see how the participants integrate their learnings from this course into their projects and everyday lives and wish them all the best’. – Jane Chandler, Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Laos.

Due to Laos’ COVID-19 lockdown, the program pivoted from intensive face-to-face workshops in Vientiane to online modules and workshops and social activities. As highlighted by Dr Haefner, Program leader, ‘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’.

Despite the setback of Laos’ lockdown, the engagement of all participants remained high with participants learning new ways to connect and collaborate. In addition to workshops, there was an online symposium, expert panel sessions with women leaders in the private and public sectors and drop-in mentoring sessions. ‘The participants had access to highly regarded academics to assist with the development of their project ideas and implementation plans’ – Dr Andrea Haefner, Griffith University.

The closing ceremony included a participant panel discussion and speeches from representatives for the Australian Embassy, Griffith University, the Gender Development Association, and participant representative of the program.

Three alumni, Paniphone Keosilaphone, Soupha Rawady and Visouda Viravong, were selected to speak about their experience of the program, and their future projects during the panel discussion. Each panelist reflected on life experiences, challenges, and the potential impact of the program in their community and organisation with discussions on female entrepreneurship, inclusion awareness in the education sector and influencing change at the senior leadership level.

The program included 5 male and non-binary participants along with 15 female participants. ‘For the first time we have included allies of gender equality in our training. 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.’  – Jane Chandler.

The success of the program in challenging gender norms in Laos is best reflected in Dee Yang’s closing statement: ‘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’.

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