Hers, his, and hydro power

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By Emma Coats

Gender has been looked at in many CPWF Mekong projects but four have a specific gender focus: the MK1 livelihoods project, the MK10 institutional knowledge project, the MK13 gender safeguards project, and the Opportunity Fund study on fisherwomen in southern Laos.

Launch of the gender manual

Last month at the Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy in Hanoi, Oxfam Australia – leading the MK13 project – launched their much-anticipated Gender Impact Assessment (GIA) manual Balancing the scales: Using gender impact assessment in hydropower development.

Assessment Manual on display at the Forum.

Assessment Manual on display at the Forum.

The GIA manual is designed for use by hydropower and consulting companies involved in social and environmental impact assessments on dams.

It is a resource that provides basic tools to incorporate gender impact assessment more comprehensively into dam project cycles. It will help identify and manage risk to avoid the possibility of dam projects adding to discrimination and marginalization of women.

The GIA manual promotes a six-step gender impact assessment process for each dam project:

  1. Gather discrete data on communities
  2. Understand the nuanced context within communities (e.g. power relations in communities)
  3. Identify issues around the proposed project (know the project, its scope, and predict its impact: hydrology, infrastructure, and potential downstream impacts)
  4. Understand women’s needs and aspirations (through participatory approaches involving women)
  5. Develop a gender strategy and action plan
  6. Review, audit and respond

Understanding before action

Importantly, the first four points in this six-step process are about understanding communities and the potential impact a hydropower dam will have on those communities.

In a session at the Forum on gender and hydropower, Professor Damdouane Khouangvichit from the National University of Laos relayed a quote from one of the MK10 community interviews. To the question “What does your wife do?” she received the following answer:

My wife does nothing. She just looks after my parents, children, prepares food, fetches water, collects vegetables, catches small fish from river, and other things here and there like cleaning the house and feeding the chickens. Nothing important.

This quote speaks to the importance of understanding and taking into consideration gender relations, and the perceived status of women in communities, before any strategies are formed, or any action is taken to build a dam. It reveals the importance of obtaining the perspective of women as well as men.

Understanding community contexts can inform many processes surrounding the development of a dam including community consultation, planning the dam, building the dam, and the associated resettlement of communities. The potential impact of the dam on both women and men will also be better understood.

From little things big things grow

The GIA manual progresses the movement towards gender equality by facilitating this movement towards understanding and assisting developers to minimize the harm potentially caused by dams – on both women and men.

Across the developing world, research has demonstrated that a focus on women yields greater developmental dividends than a focus on men alone. If hydropower is to play a central role in the development of the Mekong countries, it makes sense for these initiatives to proactively consider women. This will increase the development dividend and help to redress gender inequalities.

The MK13 Gender Impact Assessment manual can be found at oxfam.org.au/giamanual

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