What is a productive workshop?

What is a productive workshop?

Last Friday I was so fortunate to have a glimpse of the Himalayas. No word would do justice to its magnificence, referring not just to its physical look but also its value. This Friday I was also fortunate to have a chance to witness the commune election process in Phnom Penh after attending Regional Dialogue on Women’s Rights and Natural Resources. The topic which was quite new to me. It has been two full weeks filled with new acronyms from TROSA, UNGPS, AICHR, EITI to ICESCR. I was relieved and thankful that no one asked what OXFAM stands for :).

Last week, I spent the week with Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) team. The walls of the meeting room were filled with flipcharts containing lots of exciting and challenging tasks ahead of us. The team is really coming together, bonding tightly. And it is no better way to kick start the program than having a strong team in place. We even have a song for our program! Stay tuned for the TROSA band :)! And we even made it to a local newsletter.

Last week (in Nepal) we had a good balance of male and female team members. This week (in Cambodia) the atmosphere shifted to one side of the scale being slightly heavier than the other. The silent and awkward moments at the beginning of the workshop this week didn’t last long and within 30 minutes of the start, the room began to fill with laughter and even light-hearted comments such as “when is the shopping time to buy some Cambodian souvenirs?”! This “question” comment did take me by surprise and it also raised a question whether this is part of a caring nature that many people particularly women have or is it the feeling of responsibility to bring back gifts every time one goes away from home? I guess my wonder is if this is a natural behaviour or a social “positive?” pressure?

The first day of the workshop was flooded with issues women confront ranging from land grabbing, a lack of access and control to natural resources, a lack of legal status/recognition in their rights, physical abuse, to a lack of meaningful participation in decision making processes let alone opportunity to participate, if at all. The list goes on and there is no way I have enough space to write them all down.

One of the panellists shared with us that women’s participation in decision making processes is very important. Yes, my first thought was “why?”. Before I finished that thought she already started saying that because that is how women get noticed, get their concerns and challenges heard. If your voice is integrated into the planning and budget, only then can changes potentially be achieved. As more and more issues around women’s rights and natural resources were raised, I was struggling to stay focused. I guess I probably got “issued out” and desperately craved for positive energy! The most challenging part for me was to put myself into the shoes of the victims whose rights were abused. And the question that I don’t have the answer for is if I have never worn those shoes, how can I communicate the struggle to others so that that persons could understand the struggle and thus willing to work on the solution together? This is perhaps a signal of the need for us to work on our communication, not just the messages, but more so the way they are delivered. If big commercial companies can make people want an item they don’t need, then surely we can make people want what they do need!  

A presentation by a government representative about land ownership brought another curiosity to me. I trust parents love their children equally regardless of their sex, gender or physical conditions. In fact this equality between sons/daughters also reflects the law in many countries. By law, women and men have equal status and rights but women still cannot own land independently from their husband or male relatives, so what happens to the daughters and the equal love? This is just one example. As much as we want to say men and women are equal, we cannot get there until everyone is educated and understands that inequality still exists, to bring both onto the same level playing field of access and control over natural resources, for us to maximise the use of our natural resources sustainably.

Like one of the participants from South Asia said, “women’s key challenge is a lack of entry points/spaces to contribute and be recognised as contributors in conversations, that is, in decision making processes. When there is participation, it has to be beyond numbers or mere participation”.

To me, a good workshop is one when I walk out of it with more questions than answers because it means the conversations are deep and stimulating to keep me awake, engage and reflect. This workshop was one of those.