A woman washing clothes in Zimbabwe. Women’s participation in the water sector will be a key focus of the Women in Water Diplomacy Leadership Council set up last year. Image credit: David Brazier IWMI from Flickr.

Elevating women in water

A new council of high-level water professionals from across Africa will transform how women’s interests in water are respected.

Building on experience from the Nile basin, the efforts of the new network will, in the years to come, address gender inequalities in the Nile and beyond.

With participants from Egypt, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, the Women in Water Diplomacy Leadership Council consists of prominent women water experts dedicated to the cause of elevating women’s participation in all parts of the water sector.

The new eight-women strong Leadership Council was announced late last year. Their job will be to design strategies, and monitor representation, of women in the water sector.

They will serve as role models in a field where women participation is far from equal to that of their male counterparts. “We have all been working in this field for a long time. We know what it takes to get here, and we want to help and inspire others to follow. Our shoulders are broad enough to climb and we invite other women to do just that,” says council member Dr Zodwa Dlamini of South Africa, an independent consultant and former chief delegate and permanent representative on the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission.

“This initiative is very timely. The work that has been done in the Nile basin has shown that we are on the right track, and we must now continue to build momentum and understand that this is a universal issue that must be addressed as such,” says Dr Dlamini.

Council member Jacqueline Nyirakamana, a transboundary water resources cooperation specialist from Rwanda’s Ministry of Environment, explains the pressing need to accelerate efforts to include women in water diplomacy: “There is a great gender imbalance in the water sector in general, and in transboundary water issues in particular. In most cases, men make the decisions even though women are the ones who are most affected by the outcome. So, we need women in the water world, from engineering and hydrology to diplomacy. We must empower women and make sure that they can participate fully and bring their real-life expertise into this field,” says Nyirakamana.

The reasons behind the startling gender inequality in the world of water diplomacy are complex and will require a multifaceted set of actions. According to Dr. Dlamini, it is important to remember that direct support and building of confidence are important aspects:

“As women in the water sector, our main obstacle is often ourselves. Many opportunities seem to be tailored for men and it is easy for a woman to think that ‘this is not for me’, ‘I will not be accepted here’, or ‘my expertise is not good enough’. We must change that perception, so that women feel encouraged and empowered to participate fully and contribute with their expertise. Only good things will come out of that.”

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