Rebalancing gender roles in response to COVID-19 in Lao PDR

Chomsy Ngamvilay standing by the gateway to Atsaphone District Health Office in Savannakhet

Chomsy Ngamvilay, Deputy Head of the Atsaphone District Health Office in Savannakhet, has made it her life's work to raise ethnic minorities' access to health, water, sanitation and hygiene. (photo: SNV)  

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown signs of shifting gender roles in rural Lao PDR, with men not only helping on the frontlines of the response, but also doing more domestic tasks at home.

Chomsy Ngamvilay, Deputy Head of the Atsaphone District Health Office in Savannakhet, has been working in the health sector, promoting sanitation and hygiene, for almost 34 years. 

As a member of the Lao Women’s Union and working with Water for Women partner, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, Chomsy joined the COVID-19 response. She has led educational campaigns for vulnerable groups, including children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities. She has also shared technical advice with district nurses and doctors and COVID-19 information providers, to help keep them safe and able to carry out their vital duties.

“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,” said Chomsy.

During her career, Chomsy says she 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 has continued to apply it during the COVID-19 pandemic, conducting information and awareness sessions with both men and women. 

“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.”

“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 Water for Women partners SNV and the Institute for Sustainable Futures – University of Technology Sydney.

You can watch the video here:


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.


Video: SNV Netherlands Development Organisation.


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