New publication: Women as change-makers in the governance of shared waters

Good water governance will be a cornerstone of global water security over the coming decades.  A central dimension of water security involves the protection, allocation and sharing of increasingly scarce and polluted water resources among humans and the environment. 

Yudy Espinal from La Paz, Honduras, is an active member of the microwatershed council in the Goascorán River Basin

Comprising approximately 50% of the population and despite their recognised pivotal role in water management since 1992 through the Dublin principles, women remain under-represented in water governance processes in local, national and transboundary settings. A new report 'Women as change-makers in the governance of shared waters' is launched today at World Water Week.

IUCN, along with the Women for Water PartnershipOxfam, and SaciWATERs released the new publication to draw attention to the issue of gender equality in transboundary water governance and demonstrate that positive change is happening on the ground.

With improved recognition and understanding of the roles women fulfil as agents of change in the governance of shared waters, there is potential to accelerate transformations that will lead to a more sustainable resource for people and nature, says Isabelle Fauconnier, IUCN Water Policy and Governance Coordinator.

The paper argues that the under-recognition of women’s roles as users and sharers of water feeds a vicious circle in which their potential contributions to key governance processes are restricted. There is a circular and self-reinforcing relationship between the constrained roles of women in governance and the under-valuation of their roles in production and resource use. The ensuing underappreciation of their knowledge about the resource and their constrained rights to access resources limits their economic opportunities as well as their representation of communities’ economic interests, thus perpetuating an under-recognition of their roles in productive activities. 

Semiramis Molina, BRIDGE Initiative Photo: © Wanda Villeda / IUCN

Yet women play key roles in generating change in the way water is used, shared, and allocated, from local to transnational levels and in spite of legal, regulatory and institutional frameworks that provide little space for their participation in planning and decisionmaking.

  • Women play a prominent role in the productive use and management of land and water resources through for example agriculture, forestry, fishery, including across national boundaries, but this is not well recognised in many local and national contexts -- let alone at the regional and global levels;
  • In their roles as users and managers of water resources, women are driving innovation, including in transboundary settings where they are demonstrating cooperative solutions and using knowledge in formal and informal resource management processes;
  • Women in local to transboundary contexts around the world are demonstrating that they are key holders of knowledge on water use and sharing. They play major roles in knowledge dissemination and awareness-raising through their networks and educating the next generation, and in motivation building. Yet be they from the grassroots or professional spheres, women’s knowledge, skills and experience about water management are often unrecognised, even by women themselves.

The action-oriented paper takes stock of what we know so far to highlight policy measures that can already be recommended, tested tools and approaches that can be harnessed in practice, while also suggesting topics for further research.

The paper can be downloaded from the IUCN library or directly from this link.

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