Asia Women and Rivers Congress online workshops at A Glance

Earlier this year, Oxfam and International Rivers planned the Asia Women and Rivers Congress in Can Tho city of Mekong Delta, in Vietnam. Due to the pandemic, we were not able to hold a face to face meeting and resorted to the series of three online workshop series. The workshops were convened on zoom from July to September 2020 with the aim to give participants the opportunities to learn something new, build new relationships and networks and contribute to the further implementation of the Nagarkot Statement.

The workshop received great interest from participants across different fields, with 212 registered online (181 women). Due to the challenges on workshopping online,  the needs to carefully choose the methodology that would facilitate active participation via online platform, Oxfam and International Rivers generally capped registration to between 70-90 people. The graph below provides snapshot of the representation of the participants attended the three online workshops.

The first workshop, convened on July 3rd 2020 provided the opportunity for the participants to hear and discuss the findings from the study,  “State of Knowledge: Women and Rivers in the Mekong Region.” The study recognizes and values women’s knowledge of their rivers and resources and how to bridge the divide between academic, economic and science based knowledge and that of the local riverine communities. The workshop included the two researchers, Dr. Pichamon and Ms Karen, presented the findings from the State of Knowledge study, followed by a panel of 3 speakers: a young woman leader, a leader from a civil society organization in Vietnam and an academic, shared their personal experiences and provided critical reflection on the study’s findings.

“Leadership can be a burden unless (women) leaders can fully exercise rights. It is the power in empowerment. If not, it adds to women’s long list of caring roles… We need to see that Women are not a homogenous group. The lens of intersectionality enables us to see that women in the Mekong region experience threats to livelihoods according to their ethnic, class, age or ability,”  reflected Bernadette P. Resurreccion, Senior Research Fellow at Stockholm Environment Institute.

The SoK study presents the INKNA, the ingredients identified for women’s leadership as follow:  

  • Identity: strong personal and collective attachment to a river and its resources;
  • Necessity: strong threat or risk perception (e.g. from large-scale irrigation or hydropower development);
  • Knowledge: creation and sharing of knowledge that is accessible to women, and/or which is used to support women and their communities to develop the capacity to raise their voices;
  • Network support: existence of formal and/or informal networks to support women in their leadership roles;
  • Agency: ability to navigate insecurities and self-doubt and maintain good psychological health through household, wider community and/or organizational support.

The plenary discussion of the first online workshop left us with area to delve deeper into. Hence, the 2nd online workshop, held August 14th 2020 was tailored to meet this need with the focus on “How can we build on our shared experiences to encourage and nurture women’s leadership?” The workshop took participants on the journey of addressing the question: what are we trying to change? At the consciousness level, at the access to resources and opportunities, and the formal space of laws and policy, and at the informal, culture norm and practices that govern the practices. We asked the participants to reflect on how could men support and promote the consciousness of both men and women and address the informal culture norms and exclusionary practices.

‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table bring a folding chair,” Shirley Chisholm, 1924, 2005

We concluded the online workshop addressing the current situation that we find ourselves in, “How can we support women’s leadership in a time of Covid-19 response and recovery?” Our key note speaker from the Asia Indigenous People Pact (AIPP), Ms Chanda  Thapa Magar, spoke to the fact that most states deny the indigenous people their social, political and economics’ rights and under the patriarchal traditions, indigenous women rights are further denied. This existing structure barriers coupled with the limited/no access to and control over the resources vital to indigenous people’s livelihood, environments management and biodiversity protection, with land management where indigenous women are custodian further placed indigenous women in a greater challenge. As in other countries around the world, COVID-19 has worsened the situation of indigenous people, reducing their access to food and other vital resources and basic services such as health and information. Ms Thapa however reminds us of the critical role that ingenious women play at the forefront of fighting and managing COVID-19 in their communities; from traditional practices to food security and sharing of key health messages into local languages, indigenous women demonstrated their strong ability to organize, take collective response during the pandemic and recovery age.

COVID has magnified underlying challenges for women leaders and inclusion but has also led to reverting to some traditional forms of communication and resilience e.g. bartering between communities for food security. 

 

In  the plenary discussion of three online workshop often draws to the importance of the networks and support for women leaders at different levels in the region. It is recognized that while options of supporting and strengthening the existing formal and/or informal networks or establishing new networks, that the participants could see possibilities with each; but the most significant is the need to ask the target women themselves what would be the most useful to for them as context is so important.

We thank all participants that persistently maintained their online participation and making these workshop series to be engaged and relevant platform where individual could relate, connect, tell a story and reflect on their own experiences, how their journey as individual or institution support women’s leadership in water resources and the broader sector, at professional and personal level. As Ms Khanh, the key note speaker in the 2nd workshop reminded us, “We need to recognise that men and women think differently and their contribution is different but if women’s contribution is ignored then missing half of the world…. women need to be proud of the work they are doing and the support they are giving to vulnerable groups to ensure there is social justice.”

To access the workshop reports, visit: www.womenandrivers.com