The Inclusion Project kicked off in the Mekong Region

In the field, Infrastructure & environment, Women's rights article written on the 18 Sep 2014

Photo: Robin Narciso/OxfamAUS

In the Mekong Region, civil society is growing. NGOs and local communities are working together to build up a network of concerned people and communities working on water resource management. 

Through village-led research and the documentation of change stories around livelihood, local communities are gaining better understanding about river resources and threats to their livelihoods while their capacity in documenting research and raising their concerns for inclusion in water resource planning is enhanced.

These achievements and stories of change encapsulate the essence of our newest project.

Working in conjunction with Oxfam’s partners in Lower Mekong countries, the project will aim to promote women’s leadership and strengthen civil society capacity while engaging in policy dialogue.

The case for inclusive Water Governance

The Mekong River sustains the livelihood of millions of people especially the fishery resources that the poor rely on. The Mekong is at risk due to the fast pace of water resources development projects which cause devastating impacts to river resources such as fisheries and threaten the livelihoods of the poor. To date, many people in the region are concerned about mainstream dams and their transboundary impacts that could diminish fisheries resources in the Mekong River and threaten the food security of millions of people.

The governance of water resources in particular is of critical importance to the future of the Mekong region. Decisions on how water resources are shared, developed and managed will determine whether the millions of people in the Lower Mekong basin who rely on the Mekong region’s water resources and wild capture fisheries will improve their food security and strengthen their livelihoods or be further disadvantaged.

Currently there are serious weaknesses in decision making and governance of water resources at local, national and regional levels. Despite recognition that managing resources requires regional and transboundary responses, national interests and unilateral decision making continue to take precedence.

This has the most severe impact on farmers and fisherfolk, as they are routinely excluded from participation in decision making processes. In particular women and ethnic minorities are often marginalized in these processes as the gendered impact of water resource development is often either ignored or understated.

The new Inclusion project aims at addressing some of these challenges. The project is about inclusion, civil society strengthening and gender, which according to Oxfam’s philosophy of work is about giving women the opportunity to participate and to take decisions. “Inclusion is all about Oxfam’s core values”- said Chris Eijkemans, Oxfam Cambodia Country Director while sharing his vision at the Cambodia Partners Meeting that took place on the 5th of August 2014. The Project, which the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) funds, will last for 3 years and 5 months – from March 2014 to September 2017.

Its premise is that the inclusion of women, affected communities and civil society in water resource governance processes will result in public policy and decision making mechanisms that are more effective and participatory.

Starting from the field: gender and communities

In Cambodia, our partners expressed strong interest to engage in the Inclusion project. They want to focus especially on community water resource management projects, which aim to showcase examples of local water resource management and planning that promote gender and community participation.

The community water resource management projects will be designed to fit to context and be gender sensitive, inclusive, effective and scale-able. Community water resources management provides an avenue to improve development and implementation of community water management plans and to increase women’s representation, decision making and leadership in committees. Intensifying grassroots participation in national and regional water resource planning and decision making will be based on the evidence of good water resource management on the ground, as emerging from the community water resource management projects.

We value our long term partners in Laos for their experiences in promoting women’s leadership, community-based research and documentation on environmental change issues. We will continue our partnership work to promote village-led research and inputting the knowledge generated into policy making processes.

The Inclusion project is not old wine in a new bottle

The project builds off Oxfam’s long term engagement under the Mekong Water Governance Program of Oxfam Australia. However, the Inclusion is also innovative. The project will have a stronger emphasis on capacity development of civil society, which will also be supported by prompting government and private sector commitment to constructive participatory water governance policies. The program aims to increase the number of women and men in farmer and fisher communities who have realized their rights to secure sustainable livelihoods.

It will achieve this through a combination of supporting civil society networks and promoting best practice standards while holding infrastructure developers to account. Strengthening alternatives and community resilience is also our commitment. We break through barriers constraining civil society participation by promoting evidence-based community water resource management projects and policy dialogue while empowering civil society. Identifying women leader role-models and promoting a more participatory and inclusive approach to water resource management processes, ensuring gender is factored in throughout, are our key goals.

Authors: Inclusion Team (Worawan Sukraroek, Socheta Sim, Roitha Hong and Robin Narciso)