The pandemic has shown signs of shifting gender roles in rural Laos with men doing more in the home.
Chomsy Ngamvilay, Deputy Head of the Atsaphone District Health Office in Savannakhet, said: “I found men participating in coronavirus outbreak prevention and control. They were involved in information and education campaigns. They actively visited villages and sanitised risky places. Men participated in family care. They took up household chores, including fetching water, cooking and cleaning their homes.”
Chomsy has been working in the health sector, promoting sanitation and hygiene, for almost 34 years.
“My work is dedicated to improving community access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, specifically for those who live in remote areas,” she said.
“In these areas, health information is not always well-known nor disseminated. Community knowledge relating to WASH has often been based on traditional ways of life.
“I believe that continuous learning is very important because it leads to behavioural changes, increases knowledge, and enhances the skill to pass on know-how to the wider community.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has concentrated attention on health and hygiene education.
As a member of the Lao Women’s Union, and working with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, Chomsy joined the COVID-19 response. She led educational campaigns for vulnerable groups, including children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities.
She shared technical advice with district nurses and doctors, and COVID-19 information providers, many of whom are women, to help keep them safe and able to carry out their vital duties.
During her career, Chomsy has faced resistance from men, who felt excluded and did not understand her work. She came to realise the importance of engaging both husband and wife about childcare, family planning, sanitation and hygiene as being part of the role of every individual at home.
This approach has helped change men’s perception of gender roles, and Chomsy’s has continued to apply it during the COVID-19 pandemic, conducting information and awareness sessions with both men and women.
“I work with everybody to ensure gender equality in communities,” she said. “You can too. We all can.”
Chomsy was speaking as one of 19 leaders interviewed for the ‘Gender Transformative Leadership in WASH during the COVID-19 Pandemic’ research project, led by SNV and the Instituted for Sustainable Futures – University of Technology Sydney led the project, and funded by the Australian Government’s Water for Women Fund. You can watch the video interview here: https://on.snv.org/3yg7t25
Global Handwashing Day 2021 is Friday, 15 October, with the theme of “Our Future is at Hand – Let’s Move Forward Together!” It calls for coordinated action towards universal access to hand hygiene, as a first line of defence against disease, including Covid-19. It is also the United Nations International Day of Rural Women, with the theme, “Building women’s resilience in the wake of Covid-19”.
Women and girls are disadvantaged in this pandemic, a problem aggravated in rural areas. Rural women represent a quarter of the world’s population. They play a crucial role in agriculture, food security and nutrition, and the health and wellbeing of families and communities.
They’ve been at the forefront of pandemic responses, even as unpaid care and domestic work increased.
Global Handwashing Day 2021 reminds us that to overcome this pandemic, we must move forward together. This also means empowering women to build a healthier and more resilient future for all.
Water for Women partners with SNV to deliver the Beyond the Finish Line - Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All project, which aims to improve the health, gender equality and social inclusion, and wellbeing
of 200,000 people in Lao PDR.
Through Water for Women, Australia is investing AUD118.9m to deliver 33 WASH projects and research initiatives that aim to support 2.9 million people in 15 countries across South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific. Water for Women is the Australian government's flagship WASH program and is being delivered as part of Australia's aid program over five years, from 2018 to 2022.