Women and Rivers Congress 2019

In March 2019, International Rivers and partner groups convened the inaugural Women and Rivers Congress, hosted by the Nepal Water Conservation Foundation in Nagarkot, Nepal. The event brought together close to 100 women from more than 30 countries across Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Europe, to celebrate the fundamental role women play in defending and stewarding freshwater resources, as well as to spur collective action to challenge the deep-ceded, gender inequities that women face in safeguarding rivers and river ecosystems.

Women and Rivers Congress Goals

Participants at the Congress sought to create opportunities to build collaborative relationships, strategize solutions, and catalyze the integration of women’s leadership in water research, policy, management, and decision-making. Goals included:

  • 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.

Thematic Issue Areas

The discussions and workshops at the Congress were structured around thematic issues relevant to building a women and rivers movement and support network. Strategy and approach frameworks, and capacity building sessions, were proposed by the Congress organizers based on our current understanding of the needs, goals, and objectives for the Congress.

Law, Tenure and Community Management

Recognition of how women use, access and control freshwater resources is often embedded in cultural and societal approaches to managing and governing natural resources as a whole. Women are active in many aspects to household and community decision making over water resources. In many cases, indigenous women are also leading some of our most effective fights for river and land protections, and for recognition of rights to decide how freshwater resources and ecosystems are managed, accessed and used. However, when we look at decision making in infrastructure and governance, throughout the processes of planning and regulation, women are often under-represented, marginalized, and gendered impacts are ignored.

This theme will present current research collaborations exploring the context of community water tenure, and women’s rights. We will also look at examples of community management, where gendered roles are recognized, and hear from case studies where indigenous recognition of women’s rights is present. We will look at the movements for legal protection of rivers, and women’s issues and roles within these.

Conservation and biodiversity

Bringing together science, academia and local forms of knowledge, this theme will look at who is generating knowledge, and how these are being used to raise profile of women’s issues and rights while contributing to biodiversity and conservation outcomes. We will hear from women leaders using knowledge creation to stimulate change in thinking and practice around river management and freshwater resource use and protection. Speakers will include women scientists leading work around biodiversity and conservation that advances community and women’s rights in river use and management. We will also look at examples of how we can best communicate knowledge towards societal and institutional change.

Rivers and gendered livelihoods

Rivers and freshwater ecosystems underpin livelihoods of river communities the world over. This sub theme will look at examples of women’s leadership in fisher / farmer communities, and in CSOs working with communities to support of women’s rights. This will also include researchers and academics working to support gender work in river communities and their livelihoods.

Proposed Strategy and Approach Sessions

Resource Mobilization: Learn, Share, Stimulate, Collaborate

This session will explore how women leaders in water and river issues can best collaborate to raise the profile of these issues and build momentum. The Congress will gather a mix of leaders and experts from civil society and philanthropic sectors in addition to community activists and representatives. This session provides an opportunity to connect with a wider network of experts playing various roles to further our work toward the goals of protecting freshwater resources and advancing women’s rights.

Collaborations for Impact and change

Lasting impact is best achieved through strong collaboration and networks, often by drawing together divergent groups toward a common outcome. Building on the Resource Mobilization session, this theme will allow us to hear from some of the more effective collaborations and networks, and the roles that women play within these. We will explore what good collaboration looks like, how we can best generate collective power, how to build youth networks for emerging women activists and leaders. This session will aim to erode existing silos and foster relationships and collaboration between those focused on women’s land rights and women’s water rights, as well as those focused on women’s water rights and women’s rights more broadly.

Storytelling: Women as knowledge holders, stewards and catalysts for change

This session will provide opportunities for participants to build communication skills that will amplify their voices and their struggles. Topics include story coaching, the role of arts and culture, and using video for visualizing the rivers and women’s roles.