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Women water activists gather in Kathmandu to exchange notes

About 100 women from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe attend the first Women and Rivers Congress

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 08 March 2019

The International Working Women’s Day has traditionally provided opportunities to look at various issues through the lens of gender — how the issue, or advocacy and activism surrounding it, impacts half the population. This year, women water activists from various countries have gathered in Nepal for the maiden Women and Rivers Congress.

About 100 activists from countries including India, China, Nepal, the United States, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Peru are attending the March 6-10, 2019 congress in Kathmandu. The event is “in response to the manifold challenges facing rivers and freshwater resources,” according to a statement by International Waters, which is organising the event.

The organisers cite instances of how women activists succeeded as river advocates in various parts of the world:

  • Keeping China’s last free-flowing river free of dams
  • Minimising pollution in rivers of Vietnam by investing in cleaner energy technology
  • Blocking the world’s largest hydroelectric power project in the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • “Not only are women taking leadership the world over in guaranteeing water resources for generations to come, they are bringing into focus that gender equity and resource conservation are two sides of the same coin,” said Kate Horner, executive director of International Rivers.

In Kathmandu, the activists will work on challenging the gender-inequity underlying varied threats to rivers the world over, according to the organisers. The congress will also be a platform to support and inspire each other’s campaigns.

Sources of fresh water are facing challenges worldwide:

  • Most great rivers have been dammed, diverted, are over-tapped or polluted.
  • More than 80 per cent of the population of fauna living by such water-bodies have disappeared in the last four decades (WWF).
  • Freshwater species are declining double the fast as land-based and marine species.
  • Less than 10 per cent of the world’s largest river basins are protected.
  • More than 3,700 hydel projects are planned or under construction
  • Women will bear most of the brunt of such projects as they have to provide for water for domestic use. Yet they “are largely underrepresented or excluded altogether from the decision making process that determines how water is used, managed, and developed,” according to International Waters.

The congress’s goals are:

  • Be inspired by stories of struggle and success.
  • Form supportive networks and collaboration for professional development.
  • Build partnerships.
  • Hone campaign skills and strategies.
  • Dialogue across disciplines and sectors.
  • Frame the narrative and raise the profile of women water leaders.
  • Among its objectives are:

Provide a platform for celebration and recognition of women leaders.

  • Share knowledge through first-hand accounts of women-led river protection efforts.
  • Provide opportunity for initiating collaboration and joint strategies with fellow women river defenders and stewards.
  • Bridge gaps across sectors, institutions, and between sections of society through interactive workshop sessions.
  • Provide a forum and process to draw out a state of knowledge on women and rivers.
  • Produce a declaration statement to inform future action around river and freshwater governance, including the freshwater thought leaders symposium in 2019 and Rivers for Life 2020.
  • Co-create a vision for the future of women-led work that contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 6.

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