Importance of gender equity in safeguarding water resources highlighted at recent regional forum

IUCN’s BRIDGE programme and the Oxfam Inclusion Project, in collaboration with the Lao Women’s Union, facilitated a regional forum on gender equity and women’s leadership in transboundary water governance from 13 to 15 September in Vientiane, Lao PDR. The forum, which provided a platform for dialogue and networking, was attended by more than 80 representatives from the government, civil society organisations (CSOs) and the academic sector from Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.

The forum began with a high-level panel, facilitated by Australian Ambassador to Lao PDR Mr. John Williams, which discussed opportunities to promote women leadership in national and transboundary water governance policies. It also highlighted steps taken by governments in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar to improve social inclusion and gender equity in national policies.

The Government of Cambodia, for example, has established an inter-ministerial Technical Working Group on Gender with representatives from all national ministries. In Myanmar, the government is conducting a Strategic Environmental Assessment, with a focus on gender and social-ecological issues, and taking a basin-wide approach to understand effects of proposed hydropower developments in the country's primary river basins.

Three women sit on the floor around a large piece of paper and lay out various materials

In Lao PDR, the government is working to include the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls – in national and local planning processes, policies and strategies. Lao PDR’s 8th National Socio-Economic Development Plan – the country’s guiding strategic policy document – has already linked its indicators to those of the SDGs.


Discussions at the forum highlighted cultural norms and preconceptions about gender roles in society as real challenges that could only be addressed through concerted effort and cooperation between the civil society, government and academic sectors.

“Women play a critical role in providing, managing and safeguarding water resources,” said Ms Phoutsakhone Ounchith, Head of the IUCN Lao PDR country office, “making it necessary to identify ways to enhance their participation and leadership in water governance at all levels.”

Vishwa Ranjan, BRIDGE Programme Officer for IUCN Asia, shared the story of Ms Rinku Das, a young woman elected as leader of Namkhana Panchayat (village cluster) in the Indian Sundarbans in 2013. Under Ms Das’s leadership, there has been improvements in healthcare, education, economic empowerment of women, sanitation, and solid and liquid waste management. All these contributed to improved basin level outcomes under the ganga action plan implemented in 1986.

The forum closed with a discussion about the need to develop stronger linkages between gender and water governance disciplines in research and education, monitor the impacts of ongoing regional efforts such as the ASEAN Vientiane declaration on Enhancing Gender Perspective, and strengthen capacity of organizations on gender issues.

The forum also concluded that the partnership between the Lao and Vietnam Women’s Unions, which aims to engage national governments in supporting the inclusion of gender in all aspects of water governance polices and planning, should be strengthened.

Please download the event report here.

View video of the workshop

Building River Dialogue and Governance (BRIDGE) is an IUCN initiative that focuses on enhancing water governance capacities in nine trans-boundary basins in three regions across the globe. Through approaches that emphasise stakeholder learnings and consensus building, BRIDGE aims to catalyse transboundary cooperation for equitable and sustainable water resources development. BRIDGE is implemented by IUCN with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. In the Mekong region, BRIDGE activities are carried out in the Sekong, Sesan and Sre Pok river basins.

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