Creating a Space for Youths in Water Governance
Role of Youth in Water Governance
“I think the prospect of water governance is huge. People coming from multidimensional disciplines such as engineering, biology, economics to social science, fisheries, natural resource science to environmental management; have a huge scope of working in this sector. Currently, I am interested to work against river pollution through remote sense monitoring.
But people still know very little about this sector. They don’t know what actually water governance is. They don’t know how to devise a basin wise plan in the transboundary actions to ensure rights of people on rivers and its ecosystems. They are not aware of how an inclusive approach in water governance can ensure the social, economic, human rights of river basin communities on river related resources and ecosystems” - shared by a young water researcher Zawhar Dudayev.
Zawhar has been involved with a research on urban pollution and its impact on the river dependent rural communities of the Old Brahmaputra river. He along with some young researchers has initiated this research as a part of capacity building initiative in Oxfam’s Transboundary Rivers of South Asia Project (TROSA).
Like Zawhar, there are many youths who have passion and interest to contribute to this sector. It’s been a while I have been working with some fascinating young leaders who never cease to amaze me with their activism. I would especially like to highlight the role of community youth volunteers who has been playing key part in advocating for inclusive water governance. I have observed their continued support even in the times of this pandemic. For instance, in this time of pandemic the community volunteers have continued their advocacy with their community. Further, they initiated fund-raising activities for flood and the cyclone Amphan for affected communities by climate induced disasters and hazards.
Youths in Regional Action
Even beyond the borders the role of youths in transboundary action resurfaces to greater level. As there are some strategic decisions involved in transboundary water cooperation, the reflection and coordination of youth’s voice is necessary to bring greater cooperation.
That being said, there are many other water bodies like International Secretariat for Water (ISW), Water Youth Network Youth, Youth for Water and Climate working for regional cooperation. But in my opinion, the grassroots youths are not familiarized with this type of network. Although some are aware of these platforms, they don’t have that capacity to be part of these networks.
In my opinion, the responsibility lies in each stakeholder involved in water governance to create space for the youths. Across all the sectors ranging government bodies and NGOs, civil society must provide capacity building opportunities for the youth demographic. This would eradicate the gap and enable the youth to build prominent connection to Water Governance networks.
Thus far, these organizations only showcase their participation by inviting them to specific events only. It doesn’t work effectively. Youths need to be nurtured and their capacity needs to continuously be assessed. In return of such capacity building initiatives, the advocacy program of these platforms would be more inclusive.
Prospects of Water Governance as A Career Option
According to the latest United Nations estimates of the world’s population, in 2019 there are about 1.2 billion youths aged 15 and 24 years, 16% of the global population. The number of youths in the world is projected to grow by 7 per cent by 2030, the target date for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Looking at the growing trend of relative working age population, there is an opportunity for a world to enjoy demographic dividend  from the youths. However, to reap the benefits of demographic dividend and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, the countries need to provide productive employment and decent work for all, especially youth (SDG 8). And this has been earlier realized by the UN Water Development Report back in 2016, which urged for creating more job opportunities for youths in water sector.
Despite being a potential sector for youths, coordinated actions need to be taken to sustain those youths. It is often found that youth taking up water activism tends to decline due to lack of investment made for the potential leaders. Whereas, these youths can be an agent for change. We must also remember to give them the right amount of reward for their contribution. In the growing job crisis, if youths are given right opportunities then it can be mutually beneficial. As a result, water sector will grow, and youth employment will rise.
Regarding the prospect of water governance as a career, I have been in the talks with some aspiring water activists. One of them is Zerin Ahmed who has been part of TROSA’s regional youth camp for water cooperation last year and also other influencing activities. Apart from that, she is an environmental activist who wants to address environmental issues in this sector. She shared, “Although I have keen interest to advance my profession in this sector, I am not finding the right agency to pursue it further. I also feel the sector is not utilized to its fullest potential and youths alike me should be given a fair chance”.
Including Zerin, most of the youths shared that, they want to come to this profession, but our south Asian context still doesn’t perceive it as a glorious profession like other government jobs. Besides, the sector is not popularized yet among the youth.
Women’s Role in Water Governance
That being said, it is more challenging for women leaders to take up this profession. I feel there is huge gap in women’s participation in decision making related to water resource management. In regard to myself, I also face difficulty specially in our south Asian context. As a part of my work, I often have to travel to remotest places of Bangladesh. And, travelling for work is still perceived as an additional burden for women. From family pressure to social security, all these factors might hinder the optimum participation of women. But situation is gradually changing and breaking these patriarchal norms.
Plus, it has become imperative for women’s meaningful participation in this sector. Right now, I am working on issues like fisheries governance, inland navigation and erosion management. Across all these sectors, I don’t see much women led businesses through inland navigation, nor do I see I don’t see any women friendly policies in fisheries. The trend is creating a trap for the participation of women. There are not many sufficient women leaders who are taking up water governance as their profession. The issues I advocate for, I always find more men compared to women in discussion or knowledge forum, which eventually impedes the voice of women getting reflected in the process of decision making.
The unbalance structure in our sector rather highlights the importance of youth’s role in water sector. Hence, we need to create an enabling environment for them where they can grow and further contribute. Being an early career professional in water governance sector, I think that the idea of water governance is gradually evolving. Another important observation is that, we have to think beyond borders when comes to water governance. I strongly believe the youths have that forward-thinking ability to bring greater cooperation and fill the gap at a global level.
Article was written by: Nuzhat Nueary (Author is a Project Officer, Stakeholder Engagement with TROSA Bangladesh)
 Demographic dividend, as defined by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) means, "the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a population’s age structure, mainly when the share of the working-age population (15 to 64) is larger than the non-working-age share of the population (14 and younger, and 65 and older)"