Oxfam has been working in Lao for more than 20 years, and it has always had a great relationship with the national government. However, when we decided to start the CPWF-Mekong project on gender justice and hydropower we were aware that the government could challenge our work. Our plan was to create a Gender Impact Assessment manual for Hydropower developers to mitigate the effect of dams on gender relations. In order to accomplish our plan, we needed to understand national practices and policies on hydropower and gender. But hydropower was not a subject that the Lao government liked to question nor discuss. Its position was based on the idea that constructing hydropower is the only way for the country to develop and “graduate” from the category of least developed nations on the planet.
Although the starting point of this project was certainly not a favorable one, there were certain factors we were counting on. We believed that a conversation over a better water management was indeed possible, and that our good relationship with the Lao Women Union was the way to go. We also thought that after all, there were several things that also the government wanted to understand. And conversations started slowly, but steadily.