Published on The Water Blog

Glass half full: An equal share for women in decisions on 60% of the world’s freshwater

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A woman stands on a pirogue on Lake Nokoue, Benin. A woman stands on a pirogue on Lake Nokoue, Benin.

As we approach International Women’s Day 2024, the Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA) is taking part in the critical, timely theme of investing in women to speed-up gender equality. CIWA has been accelerating its own efforts on gender equality within its work on transboundary water in sub-Saharan Africa, since 2020, by tackling deep-rooted traditions and social norms that prevent women from participating equally and making decisions with men.

Transboundary waters form 60% of the world’s freshwater resources worldwide; women form almost 50% (49.6%) of the world’s population. In Africa, 90 percent of water falls within 63 river basins shared by multiple countries.  Because CIWA works towards the cooperative management of transboundary waters—the lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers that share or cross national borders—and their development, we also try out new and integrated ways to strengthen institutions in order to mainstream gender equality and social inclusion (GESI).

Today, most of the projects CIWA supports have systematically integrated GESI.

Women are still woefully under-represented in the higher ranks of the workplace and among the policymakers and decision-makers who develop and implement our laws.” In 2020, Beatrice Kanyamuna-Polea, an engineer and senior hydrogeologist, led a CIWA-funded pilot project in Zambia that focused on mapping groundwater and developing wellfields. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) region has since incorporated GESI, creating an internship program to increase female representation.

Read the full story here.

Mainstreaming gender and social inclusion

These initiatives have been turned into high-impact application toolkits and learning notes, which enable teams and partners to adapt   programming and strengthen project design. Targeted training and technical assistance has been provided to strengthen gender equality and social inclusion in CIWA programs and through partners such as the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program Coordination Unit (NELSAP-CU), Eastern Nile Technical Regional Office (ENTRO), Nile Basin Initiative Secretariat (Nile-SEC), and Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC).

The training to work with communities to promote sustainable agriculture was really inspiring.” Asia Namusoke and other women were trained by the Nile Basin Discourse in 2021 with CIWA, as Climate Change Resilience Champions. Asia has since developed programs for others in her town and beyond.

Read the full story here.

Expanding focus

We developed a tool kit to ensure projects map out the specific challenges vulnerable populations, such as women, face, and launched a communications campaign to promote the merits of empowering women as decision-makers, leaders, and technical experts within our cross-border water institutions. In part, this showcases how women have navigated operating in a male-dominated environment, so they can serve as role models to other women and girls.

"There is nothing more exhilarating than serving others and, as a woman, it is always with a joyful heart that one supports other women.” Abibata Ouattara is a water security specialist who worked on a CIWA project on groundwater for irrigation by farmers in the Sahel in 2022, focusing on the constraints that women faced in making use of irrigation. She believes in water, women, and their intersection.

Read the full story here.

CIWA has also developed a strategy to tackle gender inequalities through changes in attitude. This transformative approach goes beyond counting the number of women who attend our meetings to identifying the many opportunities where men and women can—individually and collectively—tackle patriarchal norms. 

Male Champion Initiative

We also launched a pilot program, called the Male Champion Forum, because we found men were often the stakeholders, influencers, and decision-makers working in the programs and institutions dealing with transboundary waters. They were therefore best positioned to challenge any male behavior that could block women’s leadership or their input in shaping the water agenda.

They [women] will help me share the work and projects.” Dereje Gebremichael, who formerly worked for Ethiopias Ministry of Water and Energy, was among CIWA Male Champions in the pilot in 2023. He says gender equality has some benefits for men, and gender equality strengthens communities. The community always gives men all the responsibilities in life: If I am a male champion working for gender justice, it makes the community a more powerful one. So,”

Read the full story here.


Related Blogs 

Sahel region: Training the next generation of groundwater specialists in the Sahel

Eastern Nile: The next generation of water professionals working towards a new era of cooperation

Southern Africa: Mathongonolo Mmese: An inspiring hydro geologist in Botswana


CIWA Program Annual Report 2023

CIWA GESI Framework

CIWA Learning Note: Applying a Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Lens to the Transboundary Water Context

Ensuring Gender and Social Inclusion is Considered at the Project Concept Phase

GESI Social Inclusion Tool Kit


Ai-Ju Huang

Senior Water Specialist and CIWA Deputy Program Manager

Ellen Hagerman

Gender and Social Inclusion Consultant

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