Women for Green Inclusive Growth Water
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  • 1. Myanmar Case Study intervention on behalf of Women for Water Partnership (WfWP) by Prof. Dr. Khin Ni Ni Thein, Founder, Water Mother, Myanmar Page 1 of 5 “Women's empowerment and leadership for sustainable water governance and development: Myanmar Case” Introduction My name is Khin Ni Ni Thein. I am water professional by training and conviction. I have worked in the water sector in various capacities nationally, regionally and internationally for last 34 years – working for UN agencies, universities and NGOs, having to live in many countries and worked in Africa, Asia and Europe. Water World is my birth place. In November 2011, I went back to Myanmar, which is my mother land. The aim of going back to Myanmar is to catalyze the changes in the Myanmar‟s Water Sector by bridging Integrated Water Resources Management into socio-economic and political reforms in Myanmar which are already taking place in Myanmar. I brought two women organizations along with me. The first is Women for Water Partnership (WfWP), which I am representing here, making intervention on its behalf. And the second is Soroptimists International European Federation, Zwolle Club, where I am member. Based on the principles of these two organizations, with few modifications to fit in with Myanmar, including all ethnic groups, culture and prevailing ground situation, “Water Mother” in Myanmar was born in May 2012 with the help of graceful visit of Mrs. Alice Boumen-Denrenter, Chairperson of the WfWP. We went to the wet markets, high-ranking government offices, universities, street markets, and small villages along the Ayeyarwady River. Water Mothers from all walks of life received the Chairperson of the WfWP warmly and plainly. As the saying goes, seeing is believing! Our country‟s women issues are mostly dominated by two categories only: 1. Women are victims and 2. Women are marginalized in terms of percentage (seats) in the parliament. Please allow me to raise the flag of Myanmar Women in third dimension, which is “women are self-reliance, determined and leaders in sustainable water governance and development”. In this context also please allow me to add a few sentences on behalf of the Women for Water Partnership (WfWP). WfWP works for Water work on the intersection of Gender-Water- Development nexus for a number of reasons: 1. water is the source of life; we depend on it for our well-being and development. Lack of access to water severely hampers women in our social and economic development. Hence it must be the first priority to catalyze women's development; 2. being involved in water provision and access (i.e., Practice of Integrated Water Resources Management) is an effective empowerment tool. WfWP enables women to take a leading role in the development of projects in their communities. (please note that it is „not in the development projects‟, but „in the development of projects!‟) The support and backing of our global women's civil society network gives them a voice, tools and confidence - and recognition in their respective communities. So they are in a position to address other issues that concern them: violence against women, health, education, environment, corruption, breastfeeding, rainwater harvesting, organic food, consumer‟s right, women‟s right, childcare, HIV/ADIS, etc., etc. we can continue with a long list that encompasses the whole world and half of the Sky; and 3. be ensuring women's involvement in integrated water resources development and management from the beginning, the needs of women are truly addressed that otherwise are often ignored. It is important to implement the human right to water, which was acknowledged by the UN member states.
  • 2. Myanmar Case Study intervention on behalf of Women for Water Partnership (WfWP) by Prof. Dr. Khin Ni Ni Thein, Founder, Water Mother, Myanmar Page 2 of 5 The Gender-Water-Development nexus is largely untapped but has huge potential to accelerate equitable development and to promote gender equality. Therefore WfWP supports the Swiss position to include a stand-alone goal for water in the SDGs as a priority. Again, in this context also, „Water Mother‟ organization is advocating Myanmar Government to endorse the stand-alone goal for water in SDGs. I am involved in UN expert group consultative meetings related to the formulation of Post-2015 SDGs for three times so far. The water stand-alone SDG should include water for all uses and sustainable and inclusive water governance. It should not be narrowly targeted to drinking water and sanitation only. If we do so, the water management around the world will stand still in current status quo – i.e. business as usual. Myanmar Case Study Background Myanmar is a country in transition from decades of authoritarian military rule to a more open and democratic system. Since 2011 major political and social reforms are taking place in the prelude to the general elections in 2015. Such political and economic measures are boosting the Myanmar economy. The country is resource rich and foreign investment surges. The rapid growth runs the risk of asymmetry towards economic growth with social equity and environmental integrity – the two other pillars of sustainable development –lagging behind. Initiatives to promote universal access to water and Integrated Water Resources Management are stimulated to achieve poverty reduction, to overcome socio-cultural tension, in the very ethnically diverse country, and to address environmental challenges while promoting foreign direct investments. In Myanmar society, women have a tradition of water stewardship and environmental care. Myanmar has more than 150 different ethnic groups, generally speaking, in each group women constitutes about 51% of the populace. Since Myanmar existed in the history – thousands year ago – women of each group such as Akhar, Chin, Danu, Kachin, Kayar, Kayan, Kayin, Lar-hu, Mon, Myanmar, Nar-Ga, Pa-Daung, Palaung, Rakhine, Wa, etc., just to name a few in an alphabetical order. Some ethnic groups have literature, written languages, and well established culture while others have no written language but dialects and well- practiced culture and traditions. Among all those cultures and traditions of diverse ethnic groups of Myanmar, in my view there are “at least two things are in common”- these are: 1. Water stewardship and 2. Environmental care - as a water professional, I focus on those two common practices of women of Myanmar and work with the women of Myanmar to bring everyone to become “Water Mothers”. Women can be virgin or single or married or separated or divorced, their marital status doesn‟t affect the status to become water mothers. This conversation even become “an ice breaker for our communal meetings and we can joke around to become closer to each other when we meet each other for the first time! They (all Myanmar Women, 51% of the total populace of Myanmar) are therefore considered as a key stakeholder to ensure sustainable development and management of water resources at all levels. However, organised involvement of the Women Major Group and civil society in general in issues of water efficiency is still in its early stages. In 2012, in cooperation with the Women for Water Partnership, Water Mother Myanmar was formed as the national women‟s civil society organisation in the water sector.
  • 3. Myanmar Case Study intervention on behalf of Women for Water Partnership (WfWP) by Prof. Dr. Khin Ni Ni Thein, Founder, Water Mother, Myanmar Page 3 of 5 Case study in two villages: Ywar Haung and Thar Paung A good example of “women for water” work was done in two small villages, (i) „Ywar Haung‟ village, Nyaung Don Township, Maaubin District and (ii) „Thar Paung‟ village in the Ayeyarwady Division, both situated along the bank of Ayeyarwady River. Water Mother visited Ywar Haung village last year to make water resources and disaster risk assessment over the duration of last 10 years. This village has 90 houses and population is approximately 400, 70% of which works for fishery and 30% for agriculture. 51% of the population is women, however, men went to find suitable jobs elsewhere, and women become majority of the residence there. That has altered the role of women into wider perspective and greater responsibilities. Flood is their annual event. Biggest river flood came in 2007 and Nargis cyclone hit the village in 2008. Their farms were inundated. However, quite opposite has happened after the irrigation department built a sluice gate to divert water specifically for deep-water agricultural lands downstream. Since then they need to stand by at the sluice gate and as soon as water is released, they relay the message by shouting one person to another until the message reaches the village. When information arrived, they divert water from the canal into their fields. Otherwise all the water went downstream and they do not get water for their crops. Even if they know ahead of the time that the sluice gate is about to open, even if they divert water into their fields as soon as the sluice gate opens, the water swiftly runs downstream before all upper fields are irrigated. Water Mother explained to the villagers that we can solve this problem by Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach. Nowadays our government actively promotes IWRM and they do not have to worry if they speak out and act upon IWRM. On the other hand the Irrigation Officers know about IWRM and if you use these words they will understand your problem. At this stage, who is going to deal with the communication and negotiation with local authorities was left as a question mark. Water Mother also found out that a social network of 57 women already exists and it is called MaMa-Myar-Group. Therefore, MaMa-Myar-Group was invited to join Water Mother as a group, (just like a partner organisation) and those new members were capacitated to do water diplomacy. They learned the basis of IWRM and try to explain the upstream downstream water sharing and asking for prior-informed-consent, transparency and dialogue from the local authority and time table for sluice-gate opening intervals, etc. Finally they successfully negotiated to get water within certain limit. During this process they came to understand that the current practice is not sustainable and they need to find ways to improve. At present they are proposing an alternative plan to have a better deal for water sharing with their downstream neighbours for irrigation water and begin to think about rain-water- harvesting for drinking and domestic use during the rainy season; i.e. to change the life style from water-dependent to water-reliance. They also came to understand the impact of government‟s policies. There are times upstream peoples suffer when water is prioritised with direct intervention from the top to send water to downstream fields. Women play a crucial role in problem description, communication, advocacy and negotiation. The lesson learnt is that we need to work from three directions to achieve the goals and obtain the desire result. These three directions are (i) political will, (ii) social mobilization, and (iii) research-based scientific knowledge and skill development and training. This approach is called „triangle that moves the mountain‟, which was successfully used in health care reform of Thailand. We are now applying it towards full scale water sector reform in Myanmar. The second case was in Thar-Paung village, Ayeyarwady division where many of groundwater boreholes are arsenic contaminated. UNICEF told the villagers not to drink water from contaminated boreholes and not to dig new wells. Those warnings, information dissemination and suggestions were not taken seriously, mainly due to the lack of alternative source of water. Water mother visited Thar-Paung last month and discussed with all
  • 4. Myanmar Case Study intervention on behalf of Women for Water Partnership (WfWP) by Prof. Dr. Khin Ni Ni Thein, Founder, Water Mother, Myanmar Page 4 of 5 stakeholders and encouraged the women to look for alternative water resources. That is a new approach – involving women to develop possible water resources within the vicinity of their village. Women found one drinking water tank (man-made surface water tank) which was under salt-water flood annually when the surges come from the sea. They told us to raise the bank to store rainwater and prevent from salt-water flood. Another source was a dried out creek which is directly linked to the Pan Hlaing River. They asked Water Mother to help restore the creek with fresh/river water, which is about 8000feet long. Village women also agreed to join Water Mother and vow to develop their own water resources and sustain stewardship. Water Mother went to see the Government of Ayeyarwady Division and explained and advocated the cause of women of Thar-Paung village. The Ethnic Affairs Minister who is former superintendent engineer in Irrigation Department said that if the women of Thar-Paung village are willing to initiate the project and volunteer their time and labour, he will support them with machinery, operators and diesel to restore the creek. It was a kind of miracle happened within a month period. Water Mothers in Thar-Paung village will begin their freshwater creek restoration work before the onset of this year monsoon. What we learnt from this case is that no one party can do alone to implement IWRM. It needs three components: political will, social mobilization and research-based scientific knowledge and skill trainings. Once women are empowered, they no longer become victims or disadvantaged human-beings; instead they become leaders in Sustainable Water Governance and Development. Conclusion In Myanmar at present, the Union Government and Local Governments think and work in different pace. The Union Government is faster in reform programmes, new laws and policies making. It initiated the reforms and giving more space for integrated water resources management, which include formation of water users groups, river basin organizations, water- stewardship groups and other interest groups. Local Governments are faster in building infrastructures where it is needed but not necessarily within a framework of holistic planning. Local Governments are not empowered concerning the detailed procedure on „how‟ to cooperate with the newly established groups and „how‟ to operate within a new democratic system. At the same time, Local Governments are asked to undertake the project implementations within their geographical areas. That has doubly complicated the matter. One is faster than the other in two different areas and both areas need to be synchronized and synergized. In this situation, capacity building in theory, law and policy alone cannot bring progress but confusion. Hence Water Mother Organization fills the gap by empowering women at the grassroots level and directly dealing with local governments – at the same time working for the new policy, water framework directive, etc. together with the Union Government - the approach is learning by doing. In this way, Water Mother gets into the scene and using scientific communication (i.e. water diplomacy) as a tool for capacity building – the added value is trust building among players. Thus Water Mother is now known as a bridge between Local Governments and Union Government and Communities. All players learn together while working on a same project, cause, or campaign. The upcoming nation-wide campaign led by Water Mother will be „rain-water-harvesting and locally- targeted water storage infrastructures‟.
  • 5. Myanmar Case Study intervention on behalf of Women for Water Partnership (WfWP) by Prof. Dr. Khin Ni Ni Thein, Founder, Water Mother, Myanmar Page 5 of 5 Fig.1 WfWP and Water Mother working for Myanmar Fig.2. Environmental Flow Poem by Water Mother Acknowledgement I would like to deeply acknowledge the CAFOD and organisers of Green Inclusive Growth Conference SEA held on 25-26 Mar 2014 for their kind invitation and providing necessary financial arrangement for me and Mrs. Nwe Nwe Yi to join this conference. I am most grateful to WfWP for its continuous support to embark “women‟s empowerment and leadership for sustainable water governance and development” in Myanmar. I thank all Sisters in WfWP with all my Love! Moreover, I would like to thank the Government of Myanmar for enabling more political space for all actors. Within that space we launched the Water Mothers cause which will be soon expanded to the National Rain Water Harvesting Campaign. Last but not least, I thank Water Mothers in Myanmar, CAFOD, KMSS, Water Users Groups in Thar-Paung and Ywar-Haung, and Minister U Ba Kyu, Minister for Rakhine Ethnic Group in the Ayeyarwady Divisional Government for making the unprecedented progress. The same intervention was made at the UN CSW58 on 11 Mar 2014 in UN HQ in New York and it was well received by the practitioners, national government representatives, donors and women representatives.