All over the world, women play a critical role in providing, managing and safeguarding water resources. Yet too often, governments ignore women’s lives and perspectives when making decisions about water. Years of experience have shown us that dams and other water infrastructure impact communities in gendered ways.

Why? Dam projects often exacerbate existing power imbalances between women and men.

In many cases, women suffer the negative impacts of dam development disproportionately, facing gender-based violence, insufficient compensation, lost livelihoods, and a lack of access to information, decision-makers and justice systems.

A group of women stand together with their fists raised in protest.
Women of the Karen ethnic tribe on the border of Thailand and Myanmar demonstrate to keep the Salween River free-flowing on Day of Action for Rivers 2018. | Photo by Pai Deetes, International Rivers

Our Work to Promote Gender Equity

We must solve this disconnect. We partner with women who are standing up against so-called “development” that often destroys homes, families and communities. We work to promote women’s leadership in work on rivers and freshwater resources, improve the state of knowledge on women and rivers, and offer a new set of gender-aware principles to guide the process for any proposed development.

Woman and Rivers Network

In 2019, International Rivers and partners joined together to create the Women and Rivers Network. The Network is committed to protecting free-flowing rivers and the lands, forests and territories they sustain, to ensuring women’s leadership in decision-making at all levels over freshwater resources, and to strengthening alliances and growing our movement – for the future of ourselves as women, our families and communities, our rivers and our planet.

In 2022, International Rivers and Women’s Earth Alliance launched the first Women & Rivers Accelerator training program. The Accelerator is designed to strengthen the critical efforts of women river defenders who are protecting free-flowing rivers and the lands, forests and territories they sustain.

This program builds on the movement started at the 2019 Women and Rivers Congress, where 100 women from more than 30 countries came together to recognize the fundamental role women play in protecting and stewarding freshwater resources, as well as to spur collective action to challenge the deep-rooted, gender inequities that women face in safeguarding rivers and river ecosystems.

Through the Women and Rivers Network, International Rivers empowers:

  • Women’s leadership in decision-making over freshwater resources.
  • Economic justice for women who depend on rivers for their livelihoods, and women’s-led livelihood projects that benefit both communities and the environment
  • Women-led efforts for energy democracy, including energy policies and projects that ensure access for women and marginalized communities while safeguarding rivers and the environment. 

We do this by:

  • Providing women river defenders and stewards with opportunities for skill-sharing and capacity building, through convening events, trainings, and sharing tools and resources.
  • Providing opportunities for networking and coalition-building among women river defenders and stewards.
  • Building and publicizing an evidence-base that demonstrates the critical role of women in water stewardship.

We believe that when women river defenders are equipped to tell the stories of their rivers and communities, and to strategically advocate for them in their local, national, and international governing bodies, we can together transform the way our waters are treated. Together, Women and Rivers seeks to respect and uphold the rights of all rivers and people.

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