Women and Rivers Congress

International Rivers and its partners convened the inaugural Women and Rivers Congress in March 2019. The event brought together close to 100 women from more than 30 countries to celebrate the fundamental role women play in defending and stewarding freshwater resources, as well as to spur collective action to challenge the deep-rooted, gender inequities that women face in safeguarding rivers and river ecosystems.

Congress participants jointly developed a Celebratory Statement, and a roadmap for collective action. Each participant represented an extraordinary wealth of knowledge and have committed to pursuing early stage actions. However, to be effective, women leaders continue to need spaces to connect within and across regions for training, strategy building, and networking.

Building off of the 2019 global Congress, Oxfam and International Rivers are co-organizing a second Women and Rivers Congress with an in-depth regional focus on Asia. Women from grassroots groups, riverine communities, civil society, academia, and policy makers will come together to discuss transboundary river basin issues that span from South to Southeast Asia, share experiences and knowledge, and jointly plan collaborative strategies for women’s-led river protection campaigns.

Congress participants are encouraged to continue building their collaborative support networks with women water leaders and sharing resources through an internal listserve, as well as this site. The site will serve as an open-access information hub, collecting resources and content from participants and making it freely available to all.

Roadmap for Action:

1. Generate Knowledge and Influence

While there are pockets of academic and local knowledge documenting the importance of women and rivers, it is largely decentralized, under-communicated, and under-utilized. Most importantly, this critical knowledge is not having the significant impact on water governance that it should. The result is that women’s knowledge and interests remain marginalized, while political processes can too easily ignore them. Initiating a “state of knowledge report” that is co-created — drawing together academic review and community women local knowledge — was identified as a key next step in addressing the problem. It was also seen as critical to framing wider needs and opportunities for women's interests, while linking research/documentation with policy development and governance decision making.

2. Mobilize Resources

Less than 0.2% of all philanthropic dollars are dedicated to women and the environment. To be successful, we need to work with and influence the philanthropic community to scale-up funding through evidence-based storytelling and documentation of the urgency, need, and value of investing in rural women freshwater stewards. Increased funding should employ innovative, flexible funding approaches that genuinely respond to the needs of women at the forefront of change.

3. Strengthen the movement

While women have been at the forefront of efforts to protect rivers and river ecosystems for generations, the interconnected, translocal global movement is nascent. Building on the success of this Congress, we need to build “grassrooted” alliances with community and grassroots women at the forefront of change with integrated ecosystem of support from NGOS, researchers, academics, and funders. Existing capacities and knowledge need to be bolstered and fortified. Risks or threats to safety, security, health, and wellbeing of women and river ecosystems need to be identified alongside mechanisms and allies at the local, national, and international level to provide redress and support. Women leaders will take the lead in developing legal and policy frameworks.

4. Frame the narrative and tell our stories

There is no unifying narrative that unites the initiative and struggles of women water stewards and protectors in common purpose. To be successful, we need to proactively develop and amplify positive framing and stories about the contributions of women and rivers leaders, as well as the threats they face, using traditional, social, and multimedia channels. Women on the frontlines should be prominent spokespeople in this growing movement, and should be supported with trainings and opportunities to speak forcefully and publicly about their experience and knowledge.