On October 30th, more than 30 women from the countries of the Mekong Region gathered in Mae Sa Mai Village, Mae Rim district in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand. The indigenous women were activists, leaders, and human rights defenders, who had come together in Chiang Mai for the 2nd Regional Exchange Programme titled ‘Building and Strengthening Indigenous Women’s Network in the Mekong Region’ which was supported by Oxfam Novib.
The field visit to Mae Sa Mai Village marked the first day of the 4-day event, which brought together delegations from Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos to strengthen existing partnerships, nurture future collaborations and to make steps towards forming the first indigenous women’s network in the region.
The H’mong indigenous village of Mae Sa Mai was selected as host for the field visit for their good practices in organising indigenous women at the local and national levels and for women’s strong leadership roles in the community. The event was an opportunity for the participants, many who had never met before, but who shared a common goal of advancing the rights of indigenous women in their countries, by building a regional network of indigenous women at the forefront.
The program which was implemented after the success of the first regional exchange meeting held in 2014, was a means to find commonalities in the experiences of indigenous women in the five Mekong countries and to come out with country-level action plans to support the organisation of indigenous women at multiple platforms – from community to regional levels. AIPP’s role was to provide the tools for successful group formations, such as analysis of good practices, room for collaboration and opportunities for joint strategies. According to Ms.Noraeri Thungmueangthong from the Karen indigenous group in Thailand, “These three and a half days have been very empowering. Usually we have to depend on other people to help us in terms of drafting projects and evaluations and so on. But this workshop has been very participatory and we have greatly enjoyed learning these things together.”
The Regional Exchange Visit also provided the perfect forum to launch the new briefing paper Indigenous Women and Human Trafficking in the Mekong Region: Policy Overview and Community Response, a preliminary investigation into the trafficking of indigenous women and girls in the five participating countries. Earlier in the year, many of the participants had generously given their time and experience to the research and it was only fitting that they were there to see the publication launched. Furthermore, the launch provided a platform for an interactive discussion on the issues currently impacting on the lives and communities of many indigenous women in the region, which were integrated into plans for a more extensive investigation in the future.
The indigenous women’s participation throughout the entire event was marked with enthusiasm, dedication, compassion and humour. Indeed there is much work to be done to organise the indigenous women of the Mekong region, in line with the tentative 2018 timeframe. The participants of the 2nd Regional Exchange certainly laid the groundwork for what promises to be a solid platform for action on the realisation of indigenous women’s rights in the Mekong region.