Fenner Seminar: from fields to factory – women and plantation wood processing in Laos Learning from the ACIAR ‘VALTIP3’ forestry project

Industrial timber plantations and processing of their wood products has been promoted by the Lao government to generate rural employment and reduce reliance on the low-skilled agriculture sector. This seminar presents results from case studies at two factories, to seek understand the current roles of women in wood processing and how they compare to men in terms of their access to employment, compensation, and developmental opportunities.

The findings showed that, at both factories, women made up the majority of unskilled workers, since management highly valued purportedly-gendered attributes such as patience (ot-thon) and attention to detail (la-iat). Demand for employment by rural women of all ages reflects their desire for regular off-farm income to meet the needs of a contemporary lifestyle and escape the drudgery of farm labour. Gender balance in the factory workplace was found to be enhanced by mechanisation, which increased the roles in which women may be employed; and access to certified markets, which required adherence to international labour standards including conditions such as maternity and carer’s leave. The prominent role of women in wood processing in Laos contrasts to that in Australia, since extended families in Laos can provide the childcare and other domestic support that compensates for inflexible work practices in both countries.


About the speakers

Stuart Ling is an independent consultant who researches issues of rural livelihoods and development. A graduate of Forestry at ANU and a long-time resident of rural Laos, he has particular interest in understanding the impact of rapid economic and social development on smallholders and how they respond to changing circumstances. This research, which was supported by ACIAR, was completed in conjunction with the Faculty of Forest Science, National University of Laos.

Dr Khamtan Phonetip is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Forest Economics and Wood Technology, Faculty of Forest Science (FFS), National University of Laos (NUoL), Vientiane. His PhD, on the topic of kiln drying, was obtained from the University of Melbourne. As well as his interests in wood technology, he takes responsibility for the research activities in the gender program at FFS.