Gender equity is critically important for sustainable development in the Mekong River Basin. Gender-inclusive development strategies contribute significantly to economic growth, poverty reduction, and to equity objectives by ensuring that everyone receives a fair share of development benefits. 

Both women and men contribute to water resources development and both are impacted in different ways. In rural areas of the Lower Mekong River Basin (LMB), women assume major water related responsibilities. The reduced availability of rice and fish due to water and related developments often has more impact on women as they tend to be responsible for growing and preparing food. During floods and droughts, women are more vulnerable than men due to their higher dependence on natural resources and because of the social barriers that limit their adaptive capacity. 

Given this situation, most water related organisations promote gender equity and many have gender policies in place. Government policies, public action, and continued high levels of economic growth and poverty reduction all contribute to narrowing gender gaps in several areas, such as access to education, health, and water supply and sanitation services. The World Bank has demonstrated that activities that take gender equality into account tend to achieve their objectives more often than projects that ignore them. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are central to the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) commitment in gender mainstreaming dates to two decades back, guided by the MRC Gender Strategy and Policy entitled Commitment on Gender Mainstreaming in Water Resources Development in the LMB that was developed in 2000. Recognising gender as a national priority to increase equitable economic and social development outcomes, the MRC Member Countries have also developed their national gender strategies and plans.

At institutional level, the MRC has advocated for gender mainstreaming by:

  • Including gender aspects in Basin Development Strategies and Strategic Plans
  • Strengthening technical capacity and accountability system for gender mainstreaming in MRC technical work
  • Promoting gender sensitive organisational culture and working environment while also generating commitment of the leadership
  • Promoting stakeholder participation and gender mainstreaming through dialogues and gender training sessions
  • Developing gender related guidelines, toolkits and capacity building tools

At country level, the MRC has actively supported national agencies in mainstreaming gender in water related initiatives, in the development of country specific Gender Action Plan, and in capacity building.

Strategies and Plans

At the regional level, the MRC has a Gender Policy and Strategy and other tool kits to help capture gender benefits and identify new opportunities for achieving gender equity. However, resource limitations challenge the translation of these strategies into realistic and practical guidelines. 

The Gender Policy and Strategy, endorsed by the MRC Member Countries in 2000, directs that all assessments, strategies, guidelines, projects and related work must be gender-sensitive to attain gender equality in its development efforts. Furthermore, together with partner organisations, actionable guidelines have been developed to reduce existing inequalities and promote gender-responsive and effective water governance systems, including monitoring and evaluation. 

To support implementation of gender mainstreaming in the Basin Development Strategy 2016-2020 and the Strategic Plan 2016-2020, the MRC has developed the Gender Action Plan 2018-2020 to ensure gender is mainstreamed into the work of the MRC at both technical and institutional levels. This means strengthening technical capacity and accountability systems for gender mainstreaming in MRC technical work; promoting a gender-sensitive organisational culture and working environment; and strengthening leadership commitment. Examples of gender integration in key MRC activities include sex-disaggregated data collection, monitoring, and the development of guidelines and strategies that address different impacts on men and women.  

Under the Gender Action Plan, seven gender indicators have been identified to measure progress: (i) gender equality in impact assessment; (ii) gender balance in event participation; (iii) gender-based vulnerability; (iv) gender-disaggregated data; (v) gender-sensitive strategies and plans; (vi) gender-based challenges and risks in basin-wide monitoring and forecasting; and (vii) gender-responsive planning.

The MRC will continue to work with the Member Countries to further improve the implementation of the Gender Action Plan and expand partnerships with women related environmental organisations to enhance knowledge and practices on gender equality. For the new Basin Development Strategy 2021-2030 and the Strategic Plan 2021-2025, the MRC has integrated a gender and vulnerability approach.

Guidelines and Tools

To support national agencies in the Member Countries to mainstream gender into development plans, the MRC has developed a Gender Responsiveness Plan, gender cube, and checklists for integrating gender into project management. The MRC is now developing Guidelines on Mainstreaming Gender in Water Resources Development. The guidelines include key concepts and strategies for gender mainstreaming, as well as an introduction to monitoring and evaluation techniques. 

In addition, a series of developed gender toolkits will be  updated to assist the MRC Secretariat staff and their partners to ensure gender is fully integrated, including at (i) decision- and policy-making level; (ii) sectoral programme/project level; and (iii) field-implementation level. 

A series of gender checklists have also been developed to facilitate a people-cantered approach to development by increasing awareness of gender issues. The checklists cover all aspects of project management and sectors, including: gender in the project management cycle, institutions, and organisations; management and human resources development; and sector checklists for agriculture, forestry, irrigation, fisheries, hydropower, and navigation.