Break Through Her “Challenges”- Women Leader in Water Governance

It is really challenging when the heart is committed to work for communities, while the head is always reminded of the family and children at home. But I never give up, even though I have been looked down on as a woman working far away from home
Kha Sros

In the Mekong, women play important roles in the use and management of water and aquatic resources and are key contributors to local economies. Despite the multiple roles that women play in providing, managing and safeguarding water resources, their contributions and knowledge are often over-looked and they remain under-represented or excluded from decision-making on how water resources are shared, developed and managed. Creating an enabling environment for women’s participation and leadership in water governance including promoting gender champions and convening gender dialogues facilitates the emergence of more women champions and leaders and continues to make them visible.

This collation of nine profiles of women leaders in the form of pictures with short narratives highlights the added value of women’s leadership roles, their involvement in decision-making processes, along with their stories of struggle, of overcoming and success. Oxfam launched this profiling exhibition at the Bophana Centre on 26th June and it was open to the public for viewing till 07th July 2020.


The exhibition aimed to promote the visibility and profile of women leaders in Mekong water governance - publishing an exhibition of their inspiring stories, leadership practices and key messages to promote more women leaders in the sector, and present feature stories of women leaders who have made an impact in the areas they lead at local community, sub-national, national, and regional levels. – activism, academia, civil society and network, government or researcher and highlight how women overcame different challenges and social, economic, structural, and the personal barriers they encountered to become leaders in Water and Natural Resources Governance.

A launch with 13 participants, (90% women), and one young woman with a disability; representatives from the Australian Embassy, the Ministry of Environment, Women community leaders, partners and allies who have been working to promote women’s leadership in different sectors attended the launch. The event was live streamed on Facebook to enable more people to engage and hear the inspiring stories from participants. Around 2,000 viewers joined the Facebook livestream, with 74 shares and 947 reactions.

“It was very important to organize this event in when, not just Cambodia, but across the region and globally we are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic," said Solinn Lim, Country Director of Oxfam in Cambodia. "During the current worldwide COVID-19 crisis, Women’s Leadership in all spheres – Political, Economic, Household and in the Community – has never been more important," she said. "Women’s burden has increased significantly, and their livelihoods are threatened, and they are exposed to greater risk of experiencing violence in their homes due to lock down conditions. Understanding women’s leadership challenges in such circumstances inspires and motivates us to continue to work for positive change and promote more inclusive leadership. This exhibition demonstrates Oxfam’s mission to promote more women leaders who are reliant on river resources and who are fighting climate change not just in Cambodia but across the Mekong region“ she added.

“It is really challenging when the heart is committed to work for communities, while the head is always reminded of the family and children at home. But I never give up, even though I have been looked down on as a woman working far away from home and most of the time in the forest, patrolling with other Inclusion Program women” said Kha Sros, one of the invited women leaders at the event.  

“When I first engaged in community discussions with authorities Ï was warned by others, that it was not correct to ask these question, but I was motivated by one of woman leaders in 3SPN who encouraged me to continue to advocate for my community and claim my rights,” said Foy Sot, also a woman leader. “As women it is important to have other women’s support and to look for models who can inspire us to move” she added.

Power and influence in a community setting is often organized in hierarchical male dominated systems, in political, educational, religious, or economic spheres. The opinions of our women leaders showed us that success in promoting women leaders requires a variety of approaches, tailored to individual women and attitudes in their communities. Our aim is that there are no limitations for women to continue working for their communities and in achieving their dreams.  

There are many factors that prevent women from being heard and that undermine women’s initiative and erodes their confidence. We need to have a deep understanding of the root causes of why many women give up their opportunity to be leaders. We need to reveal the visible and invisible power that undermines women’s decision making and that blocks women from moving on their leadership journey. As women we need to break through the social constructions that view women and men differently, Women breaking through their internal barriers and self-perceptions plays a big part in achieving success. Developing communication and analysis skills are also important in building women ‘s confidence, as is finding support systems that will help them to build confidence, practice self-care and apply critical analysis. To build stronger women leaders, we need to support them to be more visible, celebrate their success and appreciated them.  We need to create support systems where women can support each other. “Women need to fight with the invisible Power in order to succeed”

The closing remarks was delivered by Mr. Luke Arnold, Acting Head of Mission, Australian Embassy in Cambodia. He explained it was a great pleasure for him to be invited to the event and to be offered the opportunity to hear the real and inspiring stories from our women leaders. He noted that Cambodia and other Mekong countries are confronted with serious challenges in how to manage finite water resources in the context of rapid economic and population growth that are increasing demands on water resources. Competition is growing between a range of users – including energy, agriculture, industry and cities and climate change is reducing the predictability of rainfall and increasing the frequency of extreme weather events. Cambodia and surrounding countries will need to rise to the challenge: Australia is committed to sharing relevant experiences with Cambodia and the region and will continue their support for women’s leadership through both ANCP and the Greater Mekong Water Program.

The exhibition demonstrated the importance of supporting and learning from women leaders who are at the frontline protecting the natural resources and rivers that are so close to their hearts and lives. The women leaders in this profile challenges our perception about roles, capability, and the strength women have to overcomes structural and personal barriers; they value the importance of role models and strive to work with younger, emerging leaders in the role of natural resources protection.


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