Empowering women fishers in Sekong River Basin

IUCN Lao PDR held a Mekong Water Dialogue workshop in Attapeu, southern Lao PDR on 7 February 2013. The objective of the workshop was to gather information about the participation of women fishers in community-managed fisheries in the Sekong River basin. The overall purpose of this initiative was to help stakeholders in making informed decisions to promote gender integration into overall fisheries related policy planning and implementation.

Xekong fisher women Photo: IUCN Lao PDR

The workshop, supported by a grant from CGIAR’s Challenge Program on Water & Food-Mekong (CPWF), culminated three days of field visits to Sekong villages where independent researcher Charlotte Moser from IUCN’s Commission on Ecosystem Management conducted focus groups with more than 60 women fishers.

The one-day MWD workshop in the provincial capital of Attapeu built on IUCN’s ongoing work in the Sekong basin. Participants in the workshop included women fishers and village chiefs from six study villages; district and provincial representatives from the Lao Women’s Union; Navarath Nouanthong, deputy director from the Attapeu Provincial Office of Livestock & Fisheries, Lao PDR; and a research team from the Lao National University, Vientiane. Vilavong Vannalth, field coordinator of IUCN’s Mekong Water Dialogues, facilitated the workshop and served as translator, along with study translator Viengxay Xaydara.

Women assist men fishers who fish in the Sekong River and its tributary, the Xekaman River, in fish processing, gear maintenance, and marketing. Women are exclusively responsible for fishing with small cast nets and scoop nets from wetlands in the river basin. In the rainy season, women harvest aquatic resources, such as shrimp, snails and frogs, from flooded rice paddies and streams. Their wetlands’ catch, combined with non-marketable fish caught in the river by men fishers, constitutes up to 70 percent of protein consumed in the daily diet of families in the Sekong basin. Women are also the principle marketers of fish sold in local markets, an important source of family revenue.

Women fishers are notably absent, however, from village fishery management committees, established to monitor Fish Conservation Zones aimed at improving fish stock on the rivers and surrounding wetlands. In the study villages, more than 90 percent of fishery management committee members were men who are typically appointed by village chiefs.

To identify gaps and solutions to the gender imbalance in fishery management governance, the workshop participants were divided into two groups: women fishers and a group consisting of village chiefs and provincial authorities.

Gaps identified by the groups included:

  • Weak community governance in acknowledging the important contributions of women’s work in fisheries;
  • Women’s lack of confidence in expressing their opinions in front of men;
  • Lack of communication to women about fishery management issues; and
  • Lack of understanding by women about the rules and regulations of fishery management.
  • Solutions included:
  • Village-level meetings organized by district officials to discuss gender integration in fishery management committees;
  • Training for women in leadership skills, fishery management and financial management;
  • Women’s groups formed to select women candidates for village chief

Women representatives from the six villages concluded their brainstorming presentation by singing a traditional Attapeu song.

There were some immediate positive outcomes of the workshop. The workshop in itself gave exposure to women who had, for the first time, attended such a workshop where high government officials were also sitting. They felt confident and shared that they would proactively participate in village consultations in the future. On the other hand, the senior officials had a firsthand experience of listening to some very articulate women openly sharing that they had never been consulted in village development and fisheries related decision making in their villages.

The findings of the workshop will be shared with the stakeholders through a report. It is anticipated that the learning and outcome of this initiative would also contribute towards inclusive action planning to better integrate women’s participation into the Mekong Water Dialogues and 3S initiatives as well as into overall natural resource management programming.

By Charlotte Moser and Ali Raza

Work area: 
Project and Initiatives: 
Mekong Dialogues
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