An Explosive Mix: Gender and Hydropower

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Discussing the gender and hydropower nexus at the CPWF forum on Water, Food and Energy

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By Robin Narciso – Oxfam

Talking about gender is never easy. And it is certainly harder when you are talking about it in relation to hydropower infrastructure. Hydropower per se can be a sensitive topic but once you add to it the gender nexus, you’ll have an “explosive mix”. What is for many a political and economic issue then becomes a personal one too. Think of questions such as “how are the women in your community/country impacted by hydropower? Are men impacted differently? Does it depend on the cultural context of each country in the Mekong region?” or “would hydropower be managed more sensitively if your female colleagues were leading the project?” No doubts that we are entering the personal sphere. But these were exactly some of the questions we were asking during our session at the“3rd Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy”. And, as anticipated, answers didn’t come easy.

The evening before this session, Oxfam’s team was reviewing and finalizing the questions we wanted participants to discuss. The idea of this exercise was to spark a conversation not only about the different impacts of hydropower on women and men but also about the proactive role that women could take in all phases of a hydropower project. Some questions were focused on how women could be more involved in the research, others on how women could contribute to planning, implementation and assessment of relocation procedures. Another interesting question, and one that reflects my personal appreciation for spaces where communities can voice their perspectives, was about ways to incorporate indigenous women’s interests into hydropower planning.

This session was not an isolated event, but the culmination of a series of three consultation workshops that Oxfam held in the past months in Vietnam, Lao PDR and Cambodia. Like in the previous workshops, this session tested some of the assumption and findings that were used to create Oxfam Gender Impact assessment Manual for Hydropower. The manual, which was also officially launched during the Forum and that can be found here, was made to support hydropower developers in including gender practices during all phases of their projects. The hope is that talking about gender and hydropower will be easier and, most importantly, that including the perspectives of impacted women and girls into the design of a project will become a widespread practice.

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