The Mekong River Commission (MRC) and its member countries have expressed support for expediting the integration of gender perspectives into all activities aimed at preserving the Mekong.

They encourage officials to take on the role of “champions” advocating for women’s involvement in these initiatives, as per a statement issued by the MRC.

This was voiced during a MRC workshop held last week in Bangkok, Thailand. The conference was attended by participants in the regional working session on gender, who deliberated on accountability for MRC member countries, including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

An October 17 MRC press release detailed the commission’s intensified efforts in gathering gender-related data. Attendees were equipped with tools to assess women’s participation in MRC endeavours.

“If we are genuinely committed to achieving gender equity, it should not rest solely on the shoulders of women to advocate for their rights. Men must also step up as champions for this cause,” conveyed Hak Socheat, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee.

“We must transparently monitor our advancements, illustrating our sincerity in translating words into actions,” he underscored.

The release highlighted that in recent years, there has been an increased emphasis on gender mainstreaming within the agency. It noted that this aligns with global priorities, particularly Sustainable Development Goal 5, which specifically addresses gender equality. Additionally, the Mekong region has shown a growing commitment to achieving greater fairness and equity, further driving this point.

One of the MRC’s most significant accomplishments in 2022 was the improved data collection initiatives aimed at gauging gender equality, carried out through the Social Impact Monitoring and Vulnerability Assessment.

“The growing awareness of the necessity to understand gender in the context of inequality and its consequences is evident today. To address both of these issues, more precise data is required,” stated the release, referencing the 2022 MRC annual report.

In late 2022, the commission released a handbook aimed at a diverse audience, including the MRC secretariat, member countries, the public sector and those seeking guidance on gender-related matters: a handbook on integrating gender into the core functions and activities of the river commission.

“For too long, we have not done enough to ensure that individuals in the lower Mekong River basin are provided with equal access to water and related information.

“Without such consideration, it doesn’t just mean inequity, unfairness or deprivation; it may also lead to greater vulnerability,” stated Anoulak Kittikhoun, CEO of the MRC secretariat, in the foreword of the handbook.

To align actions with words, participants in Bangkok also considered how to put the gender action plan into practice and formulated national action plans to accelerate its implementation.

This plan, considered a vital component of the broader strategic plan for 2021–2025, seeks to address gender and vulnerability challenges by offering comprehensive descriptions of planned activities and specific sub-deliverables.

As per the release, Le Thi Huong, a senior official from the Vietnam National Mekong Committee, emphasised the need to support the most vulnerable citizens.

“These important documents are always filled with lofty aspirations, but the gender action plan is a roadmap that leads us, step by step, through all the concrete actions we must implement, to positively impact gender and vulnerability issues across the basin,” she said.