Asia Women and Rivers Congress

A report of three online workshops convened by Oxfam between July and September 2020

Paper author: 
Pauline Taylor-Mckeown
Paper publication date: 
Sunday, January 10, 2021

In March 2019, International Rivers and partners convened the inaugural global Women and Rivers Congress in Nepal. This brought together close to 100 women from more than 30 countries to celebrate the fundamental roles women play in defending and stewarding freshwater resources, and to ignite collective action to challenge the deep-rooted gender inequities that women face in their efforts to safeguard rivers and freshwater ecosystems. The event celebrated and recognised women’s leadership, effective strategies, and successes and the systemic barriers that women experience in their lives and their work as a result of patriarchal societies, and we shared and learned from each other’s struggles to bring about transformative change.

The Congress participants made a number of recommendations to strengthen movements, collaborate for change and share learning through stories A key theme was to explore different forms of knowledge produced by, and about, women–considering their roles and experience in water management, research, and as stewards and primary users of water. This was intended to bridge the divide between academic, economic and science-based knowledge and that of local people and civil society partners. This recommendation was brought back into the Asia region with a commitment to hold an Asia region Congress.

Women and girls represent over half of the Mekong region's population. The inter-dependencies between women, rivers and water, and the role of women in productive and reproductive work within the family and community challenges whether enough attention is being paid to the inclusion and leadership of women and their game-changing role in water stewardship and river protection. The water resource management field is perceived as highly technical and a male-dominated sector. With regards to the governance of water resources, at local, national, regional, global level, we see the same under-representation of women: at the decision-making table, in consultations on large-scale water infrastructure projects and in the way knowledge on water management is documented, valued and shared. Inclusion of relevant stakeholders is key to good governance. Understanding the ways in which gender shapes control and access over water and the differing needs and positions of women and men, is crucial to address poverty and water insecurity as well as contributing to the SDG goal on gender equality.

The report draws on a literature review and 25 interviews with key stakeholders. It highlights womens contributionsboth actual and potential—to better governance, social and environmental outcomes for rivers in the Mekong region. The report spotlights womens achievements in water decision-making, river governance and the major barriers to their leadership and “visible” participation and identifies key points of inequity in its institutions and governance processes at grassroots, national and transnational levels. Women speak in the report on good practice how women have assumed important and influential roles in governing the rivers and water resources on which they and their communities depend.

Going on line rather than face to face, the Asia Women Congress aimed to bring together women leaders and stakeholders from across the Mekong, Salween and South Asia basins to develop and strengthen partnerships and networks within and across basins to discuss and learn together and identify regional action to support women’s leadership during these challenging times of the pandemic.