Making a mark: volunteer’s work on climate change recognized by UN

Country Laos
Focus

It’s been more than two years since Cuso International volunteer Elizabeth Thipphawong landed in Laos—and there is no question she’s made her mark. Her work on climate change and gender equality with the Gender Development Association (GDA) has made strides in the country and been recognized on the international stage. 

Her project with GDA won the Transformational Gender Just Climate Solutions Award at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2017 

“A lot of climate change initiatives and knowledge exist within these communities,” says Elizabeth. “They’re dealing with climate change every single day.” 

The majority of Laotians live in rural areas and 70 per cent rely on the crops they can collect during the day. Using a women’s empowerment lens to bridge traditional harvesting practices with sustainable initiatives, the project benefitted 4,500 women, their families and fellow community members—many of whom belong to the marginalized Hmong and Khmu ethnic groups.  

“These are people who don’t get to go to the grocery stores,” says Elizabeth. “Women are the ones in the family responsible for this collecting. There’s a high number of girls dropping out of school early. Women are going back to foraging immediately after childbirth. Also, with population density, resources are becoming scarcer.” 

Women participated in train-the-trainer workshops to enhance their knowledge in the field of agriculture, sustainable harvesting and income generation. The project also focused on increasing women’s inclusion and impact on community decisions. 

“The women are being uplifted as experts,” says Elizabeth. “Women are traditionally the ones who harvest. They should be the policy makers.” 

Elizabeth, who lives in Peterborough, Ont., was invited to join the Canadian delegation to the 63rd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York City this past March.  

She joined the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of International Development and Minister for Women and Gender Equality, along with senators, members of parliament, and other leaders from across Canada. 

“The United Nations brings the international community together to drive social progress and gender equality around the world—a goal to which Canada is deeply committed,” says the minister.  

Canada will host the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia this June. Held every three years, it is the world’s largest gathering on gender equality and the health, rights and well-being of women and girls.