Achieving water rights by smashing patriarchy

Achieving water rights by smashing patriarchy

In one of the remotest corner of Indo-Bhutan border in Saralpara, Assam, a silent revolution is shaping up. A revolution led by women smashing patriarchy and other non-conforming gender to secure water governance rights for themselves.  

Oxfam India is working with local communities in Uttar Pradesh and Assam to ensure that all interventions to address water governance take into consideration the unique vulnerabilities of women and children. Our work on water governance is guided by SDG Goal 5 (Gender Equality) and Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation).

Oxfam India partner NERSWN (North Eastern Research and Social Work Network) in Assam, works with some of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities living along the river basin of Brahmaputra. The mighty river is known for its devastating flood and erosion.

In one of the visits to villages around the Saralbhaga River (a tributary of Brahmaputra), I was meeting villagers who were displaced due to communal and ethnic riots some 12 years back. A study conducted by NERSWN to understand the impacts of this conflict suggested that more than 1, 26,263 persons including 19,036 children were forced to live in the relief camps for over 15 years now. The ethnic conflict reportedly displaced 4, 85,921 people belonging to different communities according to Govt of Assam figures.

The authorities sent the people living in camps post the conflict, to this area which supposedly is encroached forest land. This brings in its own problem of limited access to Government policies and schemes. The villages do not have drinking water or proper housing, education, and health facilities. When they reach out to the authorities, they are sent back saying that they are living in encroached lands, hence they cannot be given these facilities. Women in Sonapur II village of this region, walk miles to queue at the water point of the Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) cantonment. It has become a daily chore for them now. The other water source they have is this tiny stream that flows through the village. It dries up during summer sometimes. The women shared the variety of problems that they are dealing with from alcoholism to domestic violence etc that have become the norm in their village.

In one of the meetings with the community, I met Sushila Murmu aged 30 years. She identifies as an intersex woman. Before shifting to this village, she was staying at the Bishmuri Relief Camp during the communal riots in BTAD back then. She could study only till Standard XII and had to drop out of school because her father passed away. She is associated with NERSWN as a community mobilizer. She is an active leader of the community who is popular in the region for her leadership and mobilization for gender rights. She also conducts training and awareness building sessions with the villages on issues of maternal and child health, hygiene and sanitation etc. 

oxfam india is working on the collective goal of gender quality and water governance

Sushila Murmu with Oxfam India Gender Justice Programme Coordinator, Megha Kashyap. 

Photo by: Megha Kashyap/Oxfam India 

The women in the villages praise her for her work on mobilizing for collective change. She helps them to access healthcare facilities for pregnant women under NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) and also actively engages with the government departments to ensure that they hear the pleas of the villagers. She also mobilized the villagers on curbing alcoholism and helps them understand how it contributes to domestic violence. She is popular in the Gram Panchayat (village level self-governance institution) too. The men in the Panchayat listen to her as she is respected by all for her social service in the region.

Know more about Oxfam India's work on fighting domestic violence and Violence Against Women and Girls. 

It was so inspiring to meet Sushila and know about her amazing work. She shared her troubles growing up as an intersex woman and how she did not let this deter her passion to help people in need. She feels that women have inherent rights to water bodies and these needs to be strengthened further and only then can we talk about ending violence against women and girls in our communities.

Detail Blog Photo by Shailendra Yashwant

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