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Women as Change-makers in water governance - Rashila Deshar PhD

Rashila is the Assistant Professor, Central Department of Environmental Science, Tribhuvan University, Nepal.

In 2017, TROSA supported a study on the role of institutions in enhancing the capacities of marginalized communities in Nepal’s Mahakali basin. A team of researchers conducted the research which was a part of TROSA’s HUC grants. Dr Deshar studied the ways government and non-government institutions were involved in working with marginalized communities and contributing to transboundary water governance. The study found that in the Mahakali river basin, the livelihood related vulnerabilities are noticeably pronounced in the downstream populations with less focus on water governance related capacity development interventions. Her study also shed light on the lack of public involvement and civil society organizations in informing policies related to water governance in Nepal and India and points at the need for active functioning of local institutions in removing barriers in enhancing the livelihoods of riparian communities.

Rashila decided to forge a career in the water sector after earning a doctorate in Environmental Science in 2012 from the University of Ryukus, Japan, when she came across the problems related to the water sector, especially the conflicts and the plight of riverine communities in her home country Nepal.  Her curiosity presented more questions beyond the topics her academic training provided, and upon her return led her to conduct research related to water resources and communities. Her engagement with TROSA to research about the human dimensions of water governance helped her to bring to the surface issues that are deeply embedded within communities.

She feels that as an academic person, it is part of her duty to nudge the government and society at large on the issues and conflicts that surround water governance.  “I may take an unpopular stance on raising issues that are beyond our comfort zone, but as researchers, our job is to find and present the kernels of truth from all the chaff”, she feels.

“As researchers, our job is to find and present the kernels of truth from all the chaff”

On challenges being a woman scientist in South Asia.
As a researcher working in the water sector she feels that although South Asian society has made remarkable progress in women empowerment over the years, there still exist traditional biases, cultural and societal influence and lack of support that keep women from realizing their potential. As a result, women scientists are still quite invisible and underrepresented in the scientific community. Things are changing, however, and the existing disparities are being addressed. The first thing is to believe in yourself, she adds.

On women ‘s participation
Research findings suggest that more substantial improvements in water-related issues and challenges are achieved when women are involved together with men in equal measure than when women are involved only marginally or not at all. Yet, women make up only a fraction of policymakers, regulators, management leads and technical experts, she explains, hinting at the changes that are necessary at multiple levels in institutions to ensure more equity.

Rashila observes that academic participants in water-related activities attract far more women than men,  probably due to women’s social roles that require deep knowledge of water and its related issues. She believes that the stereotypes and cultural norms about the roles of women obstruct their meaningful participation and leadership. Nevertheless, women play a prominent role in the productive use and management of water resources, but this is not well recognized in many local, national and global level.

“women can play unique roles in water resources management if they are provided equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making”

Despite this, women from the grassroots or professional spheres can initiate their roles as users and managers of water resources through their innovation, where they can demonstrate cooperative solutions using knowledge in formal and informal resource management processes. Therefore, women in local, national and regional levels can demonstrate themselves as key holders of knowledge on water resource management, where they play major roles in knowledge dissemination and awareness-raising through their networks and educating the coming generation.  "In my opinion, women can play unique roles in water resources management if they are provided equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making", she adds.

Rashila is a recipient of the TROSA HUC grants 2017-18.