18 Aug Suparana Katyaini
Dr. Suparana Katyaini is a post-doctoral researcher at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. She was the recipient of the inaugural Vera Thiess Fellowship for advancing women’s participation in water and river management in 2016-17 from IRF. As a part of the fellowship she worked on ‘women’s voices from Brahmaputra River’.
Presentation Title: Deliberations on gender inclusive transboundary water governance: Women’s Voices from Brahmaputra River
Women’s participation in decision-making is an important element of sustainable water governance of transboundary rivers as it makes governance inclusive and effective. To advance women’s participation in water and river management, International RiverFoundation, has supported the research on women’s voices from Brahmaputra River through the inaugural Vera Thiess Fellowship. Through the fellowship, voices of women who have lived with the river were collected; their perceived challenges and opportunities of interacting with the river; their priorities for better governance of the river; and traditional knowledge and practices developed through experiential learning.
Key insights from interactions with women from indigenous communities of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, India reflect their perceptions of more challenges than opportunities of staying in close proximity to the river. They expressed living close to the river is synonymous to living with floods and associated challenges of erosion, and siltation. Continuous exposure to changing river course has a long term impact on their lives and livelihoods. These impacts are in terms of loss of agriculture land and resources, migration and weakening of social networks, and a constant fear of uncertainty for future generations. They also acknowledged the resourcefulness of the river and floods in sustaining their lives and livelihoods (agriculture and allied activities).
Women voiced that containing erosion, building their capabilities and skills, and bridging the communication gap between various stakeholders are their priorities for better governance of the river. Traditional knowledge and practices have contributed significantly in building their resilience to floods. This knowledge is both structural and non-structural which is passed on from generation to generation. In conclusion, considering these unique perceptions, priorities and practices of women from indigenous communities living close to the river would be a step forward in making governance and management of Brahmaputra River Basin inclusive, effective and sustainable.
Riparian communities of Brahmaputra Basin face recurrent floods and have developed strategies to adapt to floods. Women from these communities are managers of traditional and indigenous knowledge on adaptation strategies. However, they are unheard, under-represented and undervalued. This work draws attention to the scientific knowledge of indigenous communities on adaptation to floods and emphasizes the need to recognize women’s role as knowledge managers in policy and practice for enhancing adaptation to floods.
The women from the riparian communities in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in North-East India expressed that their participation in decision-making is consultative; this indicates that they are unsure of influencing decision and representation of their interests and priorities. To enhance the level of participation and to influence the decision-making process, there is a need for capacity building on the women’s negotiation skills. Further, there is a lack of recognition of women’s role as managers of traditional knowledge and lack of policy emphasis on integration of local and scientific knowledge to understand socio-ecological systems. This is contributing to the erosion of traditional knowledge on structural and non-structural adaptation strategies.
This research revealed that the lack of attention is partially because of the fact that traditional knowledge is not valued in policy decisions. Therefore, there is an urgent need for policy emphasis on innovative local knowledge which has aided riparian communities’ flood adaptation through the years. Enhanced women’s participation in decision-making on climate change adaptation is also geared to prevent loss of this form of scientific knowledge, which has evolved through these communities’ continuous interaction with the river and exposure to recurrent floods. In conclusion, valuing their traditional knowledge provides important opportunities to enable their ‘voices’ in planning climate change adaptation and building community resilience.
This research was carried out as part of the inaugural Vera Thiess Fellowship from IRF.