Women, Water and Leadership

25 February 2014 -- A regional workshop discussed the issue of women’s involvement in water management, governance, and policy making, and the strategies needed to increase their participation.

"From the Shallows to the Deep: Who is Taking the Lead? Women, Water and Leadership: A Regional Workshop for Asia and the Pacific," a workshop co-organized by ADB and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), drew water, gender, and food experts from across the public and private sectors, academia, civil society, and development organizations.

Participants examined the barriers to women's involvement in water management, governance, and policy making, and the strategies needed to increase their participation. It is hoped that the results of the workshop will be presented at the Global Gender and Water Conference later in 2014.

See agenda, presentations and speakers’ profiles.

Economic cost

The economic cost of women's unpaid work as water collectors is enormous, with the figure for India alone equivalent to a national loss of income of about $160 million. It was reveled that the reasons for their lack of involvement in leadership, policy making, and governance are complex and include cultural and traditional attitudes, gender stereotyping, and perceptions of a lack of management and technical skills.

A study of water and sanitation projects in 88 communities around the world which found that those designed by women and run with their full participation were more sustainable and effective than those without, providing a sound business case for more women in leadership positions.

Corporate studies also show that companies with more gender diversity in their leadership teams outperformed those with less by as much as 30%. These studies show that gender diversity in leadership has a positive impact on the bottom line – increased profit, improved performance, better delivery of services and better outcomes. Increasing gender equity in water will help deliver equitable access to better quality and affordable water at household and community levels.

The business of water

The workshop was opened by Bindu Lohani, ADB’s Vice President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, who said in his opening remarks at the start of the two-day event, that water is generally considered the business of women, but women themselves are rarely involved in the business of water.

"We have not put women in the center of decision-making [in development efforts] that much, not just in the water sector," he said. "We have to empower them, not just educate them" in a continent where women and children in poor communities normally spend part of the day collecting water for their families instead of going to school.

Lohani was followed by Jeremy Bird, IWMI Director General, who spoke on the important themes that had to be considered during the meeting, stating that leadership is an important element in ensuring that women have a role in decision making over natural resources. He suggested that women and leadership will always fall into two domains; the personal and the institutional, and both need to be understood to ensure women can be engaged in decision making.

He highlighted three areas for the workshop participants to pay attention to: 1) information – do we have good baseline data on leadership and political engagement? What are some areas of research that would provide evidence and data on women, water and leadership?; 2) incentives – what are the incentives and disincentives for women to be engaged in decision making and leadership in water management?; 3) Investment - What investments do we need to make to enhance women’s leadership in water management?

The session, "What Lies Beneath: Why Women’s Leadership Matters in the Water Sector and Why Now?", chaired by Sonomi Tanaka (ADB), highlighted the imperative to address equality and equity for women in water management. It queried why, although water is "women's business" in most societies and communities, women were largely absent from the "business of water"?

Water agencies and institutions are less responsive and less effective due to women's absence in policy, decision-making, and leadership roles. This keynote session highlighted the opportunities to advance water security through increased engagement with women and advancing their leadership in the water sector. Fraser Sugden (IWMI, Nepal) discussed the topic, "The Feminization of Agriculture, Out-migration and New Gender Roles", stating that male out-migration and transfer of new agricultural labor responsibilities to females required new adaptation needs for women who are left behind and a new approach to gender mainstreaming in agricultural water management.

Bernadette Resurrección (Stockholm Environment Institute, Thailand) spoke about "The Role of Gender and Women's Leadership in Water Governance", arguing that improving women's leadership should not be met at the expense of women's unpaid labor. Aditi Raina ( LKY School of Public Policy)  and Dennis Wichelns (Institute of Water Policy, National University of Singapore) spoke on "Gender, Water and Food Security" which posited that women lack social and political power, and they are systematically excluded and marginalized from decision making processes. Therefore access and empowerment of women were critical stepping stones to attaining leadership.

Promoting change

In the session "Making Waves: Gender and Water Policy at International and National Level," the Chair, Madar Samad (IWMI), guided panelists to explore the various policy tools and options available at the international and national level to promote change and increased female leadership within the water sector.

Patricia Wouters (Xiamen Law School, China) spoke on the lack, and near absence, of women at international policy debates and discussions. She highlighted the need for more women to influence international policy, as it would filter down to national policy, in her presentation "Promoting Change and Increased Female Leadership" - the need and opportunity for global leadership in international water policy and trans-boundary cooperation

Ilaria Sisto (FAO, Italy) discussed "FAO Experience & Tools for Mainstreaming Gender in Water Programs and Policies". Sisto shared FAO’s experience in training women as irrigation leaders to claim land and water rights and argued for the need to restructure the rural world and transform gender relations for women.

Ian Makin (ADB) talked on the topic of "Water Security, Governance and Gender", and presented data which demonstrated the links between greater female labor force participation rates, more female professional and technical workers, and more female legislators, senior officials and managers. He made the point that greater numbers of women in the labor market and in the professional and technical fields would lead to more women’s leadership.

"Water Security: Tapping Women Leaders for Improved Water Resources Management," chaired by Ian Makin (ADB), explored strategies to enable women's leadership in the irrigation sector by considering institutional aspects within irrigation communities. Discussions following the presentations centred around the benefits of peer mentoring and how the dynamics of existing institutional leadership has an impact on the advancement of women. Personal stories of success and empowerment in a technically challenging environment were shared to provide insight on what fosters women’s leadership.

Badra Kamaladasa (Ministry of Irrigation & Water Resources Management, Sri Lanka) shared her experiences in her presentation "Facilitating Women Leadership for Improved Water Resource Management"and how her Ministry had tried to overcome the barriers for women working in the irrigation sector.

Kalmah (Ministry of Public Works, Indonesia) spoke on the topic "Gender Equity and Opportunities in Irrigation and River Basin Planning and Management, and the challenges of attempting to increase the numbers of women in a decision-making process dominated by men.

Haslina Amer (Selangor Waters Management Authority, Malaysia) presented data on the numbers of women in the sector and within her organization, documenting the institutional challenges of increasing women's leadership in irrigation in her presentation "The Role of Women Leaders in Water Resources Management for the State of Selangor, Malaysia".

A panel with the rubric "Treading Water: Women, Power and Disempowerment - Community Women Mobilizing", chaired by Kusum Athukorala (Global Water Partnership & NetWater, Sri Lanka) showcased female community organization leaders who focused on the challenges in mobilizing women to be community leaders in water supply and sanitation, as well as their own personal challenges as women leaders.

Lalitha Nanemearacchhi (Shramashakthi CBO, Bisowella, Kegalle district, Sri Lanka) talked about "Women, Power & Disempowerment" and Yasomanike Mapagedera (Randiya CBO, Balantota North, Nawalapitiya, Kandy, Sri Lanka) spoke about "Challenges Sri Lankan Women Face in Becoming & Being Community Leaders." Both presentations recounted their personal stories, outlining the behavior change triggers that empower women to take leadership roles, be examples in their community, and be leaders championing change.

Tari Bowling (Integrated WASH-Nutrition coordinator, Lao PDR) spoke about the responsibility of women to support other women to aspire to leadership by mentoring them and championing them in "Supporting Women in Water - Paying it Forward."

In "A Fish Out of Water: Women’s leadership and Water Utilities", chaired by Shireen Lateef (ADB), the panelists looked at the barriers women face which prevent them from acquiring management positions in water utilities, and exclude them from being active beneficiaries of quality and affordable services. Rodora Gamboa (Maynilad Water Academy/Service, Philippines) speaking on "Women Water Utility Leadership: Constraints and Opportunities"; Zailan Sharif (Ranhill Utilities, Malaysia) speaking on the "Involvement of Women in Water Management in the State of Johore, Malaysia" ; and Nino Abuladze (United Water Supply Company of Georgia) on "Gender Equality in the Water Sector in Georgia: Challenges and Perspectives" all discussed gender considerations in utility management and operations. They provided detailed institutional sex-disaggregated data, addressed some of the constraints that prevent women accessing opportunities within water utility institutions and the difficulties faced by utilities in attracting and securing women in non-administrative positions.

Nicoline de Haan (IWMI) chaired a session titled "The Last Drop: Women';s Leadership for More Sustainable Water Supply" which explored the notion that although women are the most affected by the lack of adequate and safe water supply, sanitation, and hygiene services, they are not equally represented in the decision-making of water supply governance whether at community, local, professional or technical, and national levels. The panelists discussed how to improve women's leadership in water user groups, at village level meetings in the rural setting or on local councils in the urban setting and what capacities need to be built to meet these needs.

Nuon Pichnimith (Ministry of Rural Development, Cambodia) spoke on "Women's Leadership in Water and Sanitation User Groups" highlighting an ADB good practice project which aspired to improve women's roles in water governance at community level. Prof. Bilqis Hoque (Uttara University, Bangladesh) spoke on the topic, "Recognizing Women as Managers for Sustainable Safe Drinking Water: Where are we?" She profiled and compared 2 projects, one which had barely any involvement of women leaders and was unsuccessful overall; and one which had women leaders and involved women at all stages of the project, which was successful. She demonstrated that involving women leaders was more likely to contribute to the overall success of the project.

Targeting females for training and capacity building is critical to the sustainability of water and sanitation initiatives. Photo: Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Lao PDR

Phomma Veoravanh (Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Lao PDR) spoke about an ADB project which allocated engineering scholarships to girls, and provided them with a supporting network and mentors, with the aim of building technical leadership in the water sector, and to provide a new generation of water leaders through her presentation, "Building Women's Water Leadership through a Targeted Scholarship Program in Lao PDR". The presentations were followed by Anupma Jain, (ADB) as a discussant.

A panel on "Sanitation, Dirty, Dangerous and Degrading (The 3Ds): Is Sanitation Only a Woman's Business?" chaired by Amy Leung  (ADB) presented the topic "Women and Sanitation" that discussed and provided recommendations on why sanitation is a woman's business, why having women take the lead will help win the sanitation war, and how to go about it.

Speaking on the topic, "How Women Change the Vibe: Field-based WaSH Experience in Leadership Contexts", Hasin Jahan (WaterAid, Bangladesh) profiled two women water leaders at community level who had made a difference to the provision of water in their urban communities and suggested that although "leadership definitely requires a certain level of inherent quality; training and nurturing are essential for realizing the potential." Neeta Pokhrel (ADB) in "Wading That Extra Mile - Making Sanitation Accessible to all Through Unconventional and Innovative Approaches which Empower Women" profiled 2 ADB projects. In the Nepal project women's leadership was influential in convincing the community as to the merits of low cost sewerage over conventional ones. In the Kiribati project, good gender design measures to achieve women's leadership were demonstrated. Akhila Sivadas (Centre for Research and Advocacy & Research, Delhi, India) spoke on the topic "Water & Sanitation - Engendering the Response" which discusses the role that collectives of urban poor led by women can play in strengthening sanitation services and governance demonstrating through a case study the positive influence of women leaders in bring about healthy sanitation and menstrual hygiene practices.

The penultimate session, facilitated in partnership with the TAYO Foundation, Office of Senator Bam Aquino, National Youth Commission, on "The Next Generation: Young Women Taking the Lead for Water Security," chaired by Christopher Morris (ADB), featured three young women leaders whose work on water has improved lives in their communities through collective action, volunteerism, and innovation. Noreen Bautista (CBS Social Enterprise Asia) gave a presentation on "Social Enterprise, Nationbuilding, Business for Social Change". Cherrie Atilano (Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm Agricool), presented the topic "Farming is the New Cool - Smart and Sexy", and Cara Tizon (Initiatives for Social Action) discussed the ISA in the presentation "Ripples of Change."

The work of these three women highlighted the role of inter-generational dialogue and collaboration, and current and future women water leaders.

The final session looking at the way ahead with "Hope Springs Eternal: From the Shallows to the Deep," chaired and facilitator by Jayne Curnow (IWMI) looked at what had emerged from the workshop – what were the clear successes in engaging women in leadership in the water sector, what steps were required to increase the number of women in leadership roles in the water sector, and what were the key points from this Workshop that should be communicated at the Global Gender and Water conference in 2014?

See notes.

Closing comments by organisers Imrana Jalal (ADB) and Nicoline de Haan (IWMI) concluded the meeting.

Related links:

The Three "I"s for Women in Water: Information, Incentive, Investments

Getting Women into the Business of Water: Progress and Prospects