Our Women Water Champions

Our Women Water Champions

UNDP announced Women Water Champions in February this year, they were formally felicitated on June 2. These women have been identified for their exemplary work in  water governance, community engagement and advocacy with the government on water pollution. Out of the 41 champions identified, three women— Aruna Das, Jugoda Das and Ramandeep Kaur— are from our TROSA region in Assam and Uttar Pradesh.

Aruna Das is a farmer and social worker from Assam. Forty year old Aruna comes from a dalit family living in Amtola village in Lakhimpur district. “River is life for Assamese Hindu culture. We start the festival with river water. Due to floods and erosion, the community faces a lot of struggles. But now people are aware of the value of every single drop of water in the river,” she says.

Her village falls in the flood-prone area near the Ranganadi River embankment. During summer, the upstream NEEPCO dam in Ranganadi is filled with rainwater. To prevent the dam from overflowing, NEEPCO releases the water which then floods the villages downstream. The floods damage roads, embankments and bridges. She brought women together, collectivised and raised her voice on the issue and ensured the successful completion of the construction of the river embankment.

She leads the Water User Group of her village that works on issues like safe drinking water, dam-induced flood and water scarcity in the winter. Due to the embankment, now the community is protected from flood and villages are safely using water.

Aruna was trained in water conservation and governance, leadership, and communication skills by Peoples Action for Development (PAD) with the support of Oxfam India. She has emerged as a dynamic leader in this remote village of Assam. She was elected as secretary for a collective of 10-18 Self Help Groups (SHGs) that was formed into a Village Organization. Aruna continues to work on water-related issues and wants to strengthen her knowledge and capacities on water governance.

In the same district and afflicted by the same NEEPCO dam problem is Jugoda Das. Apart from the floods causing damage to life, livelihood and livestock, the groundwater contains a lot of iron. Further, in 2019 when NEEPCO released water, along with it came contaminants such as oil (from the dam machinery). This left the river polluted making it unsafe for consumption.

“Many children in our area become sick due to the polluted water of the river. It was unsafe for livestock and it even led to the death of a lot of fish in the river. It took almost six months for the contaminants to get washed away,” Jugoda recalls.

It was during this time when she started with working with local CSOs and arranged for testing of the contaminated water and dead fish to understand the problem they were facing. She followed this up with constant advocacy with the government to resolve the NEEPCO issue.

One of the major impact of her work was that local women became active in dealing with water-related issues through their participation in Water User Groups (WUGs) and found a voice in water governance at the local level.   

“River is one of the main sources of human life. We can’t ignore its significance. The government must ensure to keep the river free from pollution and help us improve our wellbeing.”

This 36 year old is very keen to create sustainable and robust livelihoods for women. She wants to take forward her work with the village organisation, and make women self-sufficient so that they are empowered to deal with water-related issues. She also plans to work with the youth and build their capacities to advocate for their rights.

Ramandeep Kaur’s journey on water governance began when she joined Grameen Development Services (GDS), a local NGO under the TROSA (Trans-boundary Rivers of South Asia) project.

“Water is needed in every phase of life. I see water as the provider of life itself. I have realised its importance in the last few years. And now I cannot be an armchair critic any longer sitting and watching the misuse of water. I hold water sacred and recognise the role of water in everything that I do.”

She was instrumental in setting up a women’s group for water management and leadership. Through Village Water Management Committees (VWMC), she helped extract the knowledge on water-related issues and the impact of private sector on local water bodies. Following this, the women group collaborated and worked with the private sector and government officials on the water contamination issue. She also led the group in implementing the citizen science approach for advocating on water governance.

But this wasn’t all as simple as it sounds. Initially, women would not step out of their homes to participate in water committee meetings due to various reasons ranging from illiteracy, cultural restrictions and lack of confidence. She took it up as a challenge — she constantly engaged with them in their homes. She engaged not just with the women but also the rest of the local community on water-related issues.

Today, the local women have a voice in decision-making and are using water quality data for advocacy on local water issues. Many women in the village have taken up the leadership, are tackling water issues on their own and have started making integrated plans on water management.

This 26 year old Social Sciences Post Graduate plans to set up linkages with various government schemes on water and create transformational leadership in the community. She also plans to engage with the local private sector on water-related issues and support the community in its demands for rights over water.

All three women has been a source of inspiration for their communities. Not only have they led by example they have helped create a strong community which can raise its voice and demand its water rights and participate in water governance and water management.

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Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA)

A programme to understand and address challenges related to transboundary rivers and communities in these river basins.

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