These are all inter-related and mediated by forest catchments and watersheds, which generate and capture rain, and regulate the timing and flow of water and sediment into the larger river systems, their associated flood plains, and ground water. Sediment, picked up and carried by rivers and their tributaries and re-distributed downstream is a key factor in maintaining the region’s agricultural plains and deltas and its fish ecologies. The dynamics of these various water ecosystems are also critical to supporting the region’s unique biodiversity.
For four of the Lower Mekong countries—with the exception of land-locked Laos—coastal (salt) waters also contribute to economies and food security by supporting local livelihoods, sizeable fishing and seafood processing industries, and tourism.
Source: FAO FIGIS database, downloaded 28 September 2016. View source. Created by ODM, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
The Mekong River is of critical importance for meeting food, water and energy demands of communities in the region. However, pollution and decreasing water levels pose a threat to meeting these needs. Despite belonging to those most vulnerable to these threats, women continue to be excluded from decision-making on how water resources will be shared, developed and managed.
Social expectations dictate that women and girls are the primary water carriers for their families; in over 70 per cent of households where water has to be fetched, women and girls do the fetching. According to a 2006 UNDP report, case studies from around the world show that water-related time poverty translates to lost income for women and lost schooling for girls.
While certainly both men and women play an important role in agricultural water management, be it formally or informally, gender dynamics in the field of agricultural water management are neither effectively nor systematically documented.
The good news is that gender has been emphasized as a major socio-economic variable of a crosscutting nature that needs to be taken into account in all aspects of Mekong River Commission’s (MRC’s) development programming. The overall objective of the Policy is to mainstream gender perspectives in all MRC development efforts, ensuring that all MRC development programmes benefit men and women equally, in accordance with their different needs, and with the input and equal participation of men and women at all levels.
The main components of their policy are:
1) Formulation of gender sensitive policies
2) Obtaining commitment and support of top level MRC officials and managers
3) Creation of gender awareness in organisational culture
4) Capacity building in gender and development
5) Institutionalising gender responsive organizational structure and procedures
6) Provision of necessary tools for implementing gender responsive development practices
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It becomes clear that policies, programmes and projects integrating a gender and socio-economic perspective in their design and implementation turn out to be far more effective and sustainable.
Therefore, there is a clear need to understand the roles of men and women in agricultural water management, include them both in decision-making processes, allow them to share their experiences and exchange their knowledge, express their interests and identify their needs equally. The first step in improving the understanding of the roles is collecting and analyzing sex-disaggregated data related the water in general and agricultural water in particular to be able to make a significant gender analysis.
While the FAO Policy on Gender Equality states as the first minimum standard that “All major FAO statistical databases incorporate sex-disaggregated data where relevant and available,” country specific data on women and irrigation for the Mekong region is not yet published.