Working with men to achieve gender transformation

Ms Chomsy Ngamvilay [on right], Deputy Head of the Atsaphone District Health Office, Savannakhet Province in Lao PDR

Ms Chomsy Ngamvilay is currently the Deputy Head of the Atsaphone District Health Office, Savannakhet Province in Lao PDR. Ms Chomsy has been working in the health sector, promoting sanitation and hygiene for almost 34 years. Ms Chomsy is a proponent of gender and inclusion, as evident in all aspects of her life – from health service provision and trainings at the community level; inspiring young women in her team to take up leadership roles; to sharing domestic and childcare duties with her husband at home.

Several factors have shaped Ms Chomsy into the gender transformative leader she is today. Her professional experience, her networks within the Lao Women’s Union, and her identity of belonging to the Phou Thai minority ethnic group, among others, have influenced her consciousness towards the need to improve GESI (gender equality and social inclusion).

Ms Chomsy has always been keen to learn from others, even after years of holding a leadership position. She seeks feedback and uses these in a positive way.

‘I am a person who likes to learn, likes to try new things and show other people that I can do good work… I always tell the junior staff that they should like their job and provide good services to the patient and have an open mind to learn from others.’

Ms Chomsy has demonstrated gender transformative leadership with a unique approach of working with men. While conducting gender awareness trainings with community members, especially in the ethnic minority community, she often would face resistance from men. Men felt excluded and did not understand her work; which she feared could create conflicts.

Handwashing at points of care

Handwashing with soap facilities in points of care, a must in delivering proper care

Administrative management and client tracking in Atsaphone

Administrative management and client tracking in Atsaphone's health centre

Through her love for learning and self-reflection, she came to realise the importance of engaging both husband and wife and linking all her work related to childcare, family planning, sanitation and hygiene as the role of every individual at home. Involvement of men in the community activities has helped to gradually change their perception towards gender roles in society. Her team continued to use this effective approach during the COVID-19 pandemic, while conducting information and awareness sessions with both men and women.

Ms Chomsy’s leadership approach incorporates a learning orientation and this has helped her to adapt and respond to changing scenarios such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authors: Avni Kumar and Diana Gonzalez Botero from ISF-UTS, with input from Pk Phetsakhone
Photos: Philippe Aramburu for SNV
More information:
[1] Chomsy Ngamvilay is one of 19 leaders interviewed for the ‘Gender transformative leadership in WASH during the COVID-19 pandemic’ research project led by SNV and ISF-UTS. The project is funded by the Australian government's Water for Women Fund. Key findings of the research are presented in this learning brief.
[2] This blog was produced as part of SNV in Lao PDR's Beyond the Finish Line programme.
[3] Additional stories of leadership here: H.E. Dechen Wangmo, Minister of Health, Royal Government of Bhutan | Toumkham Phetsalath, Deputy Head of the Champhone District Health Office in Lao PDR | Rajesh Sahani, Member of Disabled People's Organisation in Nepal | Namgay PeldenGup (local leader) in a sub-district in Bhutan | Ambika Yadav, WASH Advisor, SNV in Nepal
[4] To learn more about SNV's rural WASH work in Asia, contact Gabrielle Halcrow, Multi-country programme manager via email.