Women and Water: Moving from Ego to Eco Leadership

Women and Water: Moving from Ego to Eco Leadership

In the last five years, the number of female students in engineering classes at the University I am part of in India has increased from one in ten to four in ten” –  Suparana Katyaini, Panelist at Women and Water 2017.


While other pressures such as different attitudes towards women from one caste to another are still very prevalent, I agree with Suparana that we are seeing progress when it comes to achieving gender equity. Women from different caste, religion, age and background, to me is an example highlighting diversity among women and the benefits this could bring to address the complexity of water issues if decisions are made inclusively. It is also a reminder that we shouldn’t treat women or men as homogenous groups.


Dr Anne Poelina emphasised that women’s participation at all levels is about diversity and inclusiveness. I would add that it is also about giving both men and women the other opportunities they could enjoy when the gender line is overridden; from as simple a change as allowing men or women to enjoy colours and emotions that are often perceived or structured as ‘female’ or ‘male’ only, allowing them to simply be human beings who can fully embrace his or her potential.


This year, the Women and Water session at the 20th International Riversymposium and Environmental Flows Conference was a real interactive setting between the panel and the audience, allowing everyone to share experiences from all over the world – everyone was a speaker on the night!


“Women compete as soon as we walk out the door,” said an audience member. Dr Deborah Nias, another panelist addressed this comment instantly replying, “But so do men!”  Instead of arguing about the competitive nature of human beings, Deb shifted our intention to self-empowerment. Self-awareness is a first crucial step. We should ask ourselves, “What can we do and what can I do? We have to feel fear and live it. Put your hand up and don’t wait for people to give it to you.” What a powerful statement, Deb!


What stood out to me the most were the youngest audience members in the room – a baby in a pram – and also the inter-generational representation among the panelists. Seeing the lady with her baby reminded me of an experience in Myanmar that a colleague shared with me last week. Her organisation works with local communities to monitor river health. Women often miss meetings because of domestic chores. To address this challenge, her team supports women to bring their children along to meetings. This has increased women’s participation in discussion and decision making processes affecting their lives. This motivates me to explore further how to create change so that men welcome this practice, and women feel comfortable taking up these opportunities.


The final remark by Anne Poelina made an imprint on me; she has spoken my language. She stressed that young people are not the future, they are living now. It is our task to bring young people along on the journey – speaking their language. We must be creative, innovative and use modern tools – mediums such as apps, music, animation, etc – that young people engage with. It is about story-sharing, communicating or delivering our messages, to bring people with us and to touch their hearts if we want to change from ‘Ego Leadership to Eco Leadership!’


I have also been reflecting on what Suparana mentioned; that there is no hierarchy during crisis. Gender, age and caste are irrelevant when we face crisis. Let’s not wait until another crisis hits before we transform our mindset from us versus them, old versus young, men versus women. Let’s start thinking inclusively now to create better outcomes for all lives on earth.

Written by Vanh Mixap, Coordinator of the International RiverFoundation’s Emerging River Professionals Program.

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