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

Posted in : on 3 March 2024


A woman stands on a pirogue on Lake Nokoue, Benin. ©Alexander Bee/ iStock Photo

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% 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 .

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).

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.

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

CIWA also recently launched a pilot program called the Male Champion Forum because we believe men are often the key stakeholders, influencers and decision makers within transboundary water programs and institutions. They are therefore best positioned to challenge negative behaviors and practices of male counterparts that can block women’s effective input and leadership in shaping the transboundary water agenda.

Ai-Ju Huang
Senior Water Specialist and CIWA Deputy Program Manager

Ellen Hagerman
Gender and Social Inclusion Consultant

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