Gender equity and human welfare have become increasingly central to the development of fisheries sector mandates and policies in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR). In Laos, much like in other Southeast Asian countries, women play a significant role in fisheries and aquaculture, especially in processing and marketing. Over the last years, the government of Lao PDR has sought to initiate strategies and implement action plans to address gender equity issues at local and national levels. This commitment is highlighted in the Department of Livestock and Fisheries’ (DLF) “Vision on Lao Gender Equality Strategy for Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development Sector”, which mandates that there should at least be 25 percent of women in decision-making positions within the Department by 2030.
In working towards such objectives, the DLF coordinated and requested support from USAID Oceans to organize a workshop as a capacity building activity to implement gender integration strategies. Dr. Arlene Nietes Satapornvanit, USAID Oceans’ Human Welfare and Gender Specialist, and Ms. Jariya Sornkliang, SEAFDEC’s Fisheries Management Scientist and Gender Focal Person, were invited as technical experts to participate in the National Training Workshop held in Vientiane, from March 12-14, 2019. This workshop served as the second major capacity building effort undertaken by the DLF, a follow up to the workshop held in March 2018.
This year, the workshop included representatives from around the Mekong region, including government representatives from Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam, which is an example of the growing interest in promoting fisheries’ gender and human welfare in the Mekong sub-region. It also highlights Lao PDR’s leadership in the region for advancing gender equitable fisheries development, as the country regularly seeks opportunities to build national and regional capacity. Ms. Dongdavanh Sibounthong, Head of the Fisheries Resource Management Section, DLF, is an active member of the USAID Oceans Technical Working Group and a constant advocate for development of fisheries that are conscious of human and gender variables.
The workshop equipped participants with knowledge and skills for using gender analysis methods and tools, collecting and applying gender-sensitive fisheries data and in mainstreaming gender at the organizational level by integrating gender into policies, culture and practices. It also invited participants to review and reflect on their knowledge and experiences, as well as impacts and results gained from the previous gender training workshops on gender mainstreaming, both in their internal work environments and in fisheries. The workshop used USAID Oceans’ Gender Research in Fisheries and Aquaculture resource handbooks, translated into Thai, as a reference and resource for officers and practitioners on gender concepts and tools, as well as case studies from the field.
The workshop was attended by nearly 20 participants (12 female, 8 male) from Lao, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam, sharing their lessons-learned and experiences on gender mainstreaming and research.
On the third day of the workshop, the participants conducted a field trip to Nam Xouang Reservoir in Naxythong District, Vientiane to allow the group to observe and develop a better understanding of the gender and human-related aspects of local fisheries in context. During the field trip, participants but the gender research concepts and tools they had learned to the test, meeting with local women to gain valuable insights about women and men’s livelihoods. The women of Nam Xouang shared with participants that most of their husbands or male household members commonly work as fishermen, while the women working as silk weavers or find another means to earn more income to support their families and households. While the fisheries are the most common source of income in the area, women are commonly unable to find work in them as their participation in fishing activities is limited by beliefs about the types of work that women and men should engage in.
Participants meet with local women and men in Nam Xouang Reservoir.
Viroon, 24 years old, shared that she has not been able to go fishing with her husband as he has asked her to stay at home because he is concerned about her safety when she goes out to fish with him. To generate additional income for the family, she works as a silk weaver to earn more income as fishing does not provide sufficient income for their household with only around 5 kilograms of catch per day. Another local woman, Sanh, 37 years old, shared a similar situation. Sanh’s husband also catches and sells fish for a living, and she helps to support her family by selling her hand-weaved baskets. Both women wish to start their own businesses, but still need more funding for their loans and investments. Sanh shared that now that her village has a female leader, there has been a significant difference for her as it is now more comfortable for her to ask for support.
The experiences shared by the women enabled workshop participants to learn more about some of the real-life situations of the women and men in fisheries communities, their sources of income, their participation in the fisheries sector as well as their challenges and future plans. As a result of the workshop and its field visit, the organizers hope that attendees can apply the knowledge and understanding gained on planning and implementing gender-related activities and programs in their respective Departments of Fisheries, as well as in conduct further research with the gender analysis tools and methods. The gender-sensitive methodologies can also be applied in other fisheries management initiatives, such as the development of the electronic catch documentation and traceability systems and ecosystem approaches to fisheries management.