Transformative Leadership and Women in Water Diplomacy CSW61

Inclusive and Transformative Leadership for Women’s Economic Empowerment’ was expected to take place on Tuesday 14 March at 10:30am, however the snow storm and subsequent cancellation of events that day, meant that the event was rescheduled for 17 March.

Inclusive & Transformative Leadership for Women’s Economic Empowerment

Leadership must be accessible to all, not just a select few and this event highlighted different efforts being pursued to help shape inclusive and transformative leadership as a way to advance women’s economic empowerment. The event was organised by Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and co-sponsored by World YWCA, Soroptimist International, Graduate Women International, and The Global Movement for The Culture of Peace. Soroptimist International President, Yvonne Simpson and Ivy Gabbert, Programme Coordinator, Soka Gakkai International, moderated the event, and SI Past President Alice Wells managed discussions from the floor.

Alice Wells, Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Yvonne Simpson and Ivy Gabbert (L-R)

The keynote speaker was Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Former Under-Secretary General and High Representative of the United Nations and Founder of The Global Movement for The Culture of Peace. Ambassador Chowdhury emphasized the need for us to raise the alarm on the global pay gap between men and women which now stands at 23%, according to OXFAM’s report released in March 2017. At this rate, it will take 170 years to bridge the gap. He mentioned further examples that demonstrated the inequalities that continue to exist between men and women and called on the United Nations to lead by example and not words only. He stated that sees leadership as “teamwork” and all people as leaders. Individuals, he said, are leaders when they have personal commitment—collective action is not possible without self-determination. Transformative action has to come from the individual, which is what the culture of peace is about.

His inspiring presentation was followed by a presentation by speaker, Diana Rusu, Knowledge Management Analyst, Empower Women, UN Women, who introduced the UN Women’s online movement on women’s economic empowerment and shared learnings on women’s leadership and future developments.

We heard from Hanya Abdallah, a young woman leader in the World YWCA movement. The World YWCA movement is the oldest women’s rights network in the world, founded in 1855, and is present in 108 countries in the world. Hanya is active in the YWCA-YMCA Joint Advocacy Initiative as well as being a board member of the women’s wing of the YWCA of Palestine. Hanya works with young women to raise awareness of their human rights, training them to become leaders and to claim their voice in their immediate surroundings as well as on national, regional and global UN platforms. Hanya spoke of young women and the importance of girls transformative leadership. She talked of the work of YWCA as it works with young women, particularly in the areas of economic empowerment. She spoke of empowering women, and young women in particular, working to improve their social economic and political rights, through education and cultural activities. Discussion questions included: How do you define inclusive and transformative leadershipWhat are examples of initiatives that foster inclusive and transformative leadership which have helped strengthen the visibility, collective voice and representation of women; Do you find  inclusive and transformative leadership necessary for the changing world of work, if so, why, and What actions can we each take to cultivate leadership that is inclusive and transformative and what recommendations do you have for future activities?

After lunch, the focus switched to women and water, and the highly anticipated Side Event, ‘Women in Water Diplomacy as Key to Economic Empowerment’ which looked at how implementing SDG 5 and 6 and other water-related targets depends on how policy strategies are combined, and the influence women have within the water sector. The event shared experiences and good practices in the role of women in water management, with recommendations going towards the 8th Annual Water Forum in Brazil, 2018.

The event was organised by the Permanent Mission of Brazil and co-sponsored by Soroptimist International, Women for Water Partnership and BPW Brazil. Moderated by Ms. Lesha Witmer, Steering Committee of Women for Water Partnership and UN representative for IFBPW, Soroptimist International President, Yvonne Simpson Chaired the event. An expert panel included: H.E. Ambassador Mauro Vieira, Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations; H.E. Ambassador Katalin Bogyay, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations; Ms. Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President Women for Water Partnership and President-Elect Soroptimist International; and Leanne Burney, Senior Consultant at UN-Water.

H.E. Ambassador Mauro Vieira, Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations spoke of World Water Forum 18 to 23 March, 2018. The World Water Council (WWC), selected the city of Brasilia and the country of Brazil to welcome the 8th World Water Forum, in 2018. Ambassador Mauro Vieira said he expected to host 30,000 participants from 100 countries and that this would be the first time that the Forum had taken place in the Southern Hemisphere. As the most important water related event in the international calendar, he expected the event to gain broad and diverse participation of civil society.

SI President Yvonne Simpson and SI President-Elect Mariet Verhoef-Cohen prepare for the Side Event ‘Women in Water Diplomacy as Key to Economic Empowerment’

H.E. Ambassador Katalin Bogyay, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations, spoke of the 2016 UN World Water Development Report on Water and Jobs, revealing that women in formal, high-level positions have a significant positive contribution to the economy. Ambassador Katalin Bogyay said that both quantitative and qualitative analyses demonstrated that the involvement of women in water management can improve efficiency and productivity.

Ambassador Katalin Bogyay

According to the International Water Association, only 17% of paid jobs are held by female workers in the water and sanitation sector. Ambassador Katalin Bogyay spoke of obstacles that women have to face being threefold: negative stereotypes, a considerable gender pay gap, and social expectations that negatively influence their career choices, including the need for balancing family and career, fitting into existing social structures, or simply struggling with lack of self-confidence.

The untapped potential of brilliant girls and women is a great loss of economic opportunity, both for women themselves and for society as a whole. She told us that policy recommendations of the Women’s Forum, convened at the Budapest Water Summit in November 2016, underline that access to water is key for women’s empowerment, economic development and independence.

Ambassador Katalin Bogyay explained that it is in the fields dominated by males, such as leadership positions in politics, economics, science and technology decision making, that we should aim at breaking through gender stereotypes. She spoke of the Hungarian National Strategy for the Promotion of Gender Equality for 2010-2021, which sets out that the percentage of women in leadership positions should reach at least 40% in Hungary by 2021, stating that we should promote the inclusion of women at all levels of decision-making. Women’s empowerment also starts with access to safe water and gender responsive sanitation so that women are in a position to act as experts, partners, agents and leaders of change.

SI President, Yvonne Simpson, Ambassador Katalin Bogyay, SI President-Elect, Mariet Verhoef-Cohen

Soroptimist International President-Elect and President of the Women for Water Partnership, Mariet Verhoef-Cohen shared that in many countries, it is the women who are responsible for water. Whether this is fetching water for the families; providing water to grow vegetables; using water for their businesses, they take care of and manage the water resources. Today in over 70 percent of households where water has to be fetched, women and girls are still burdened with this responsibility. In rural areas, women may have to walk up to two hours to fetch water. In urban areas where water is from shared stand pipes, they may have to wait in line for over an hour. Survey data for 25 sub-Saharan countries indicate that women combined spend a total of 16 million hours a day collecting water: 16 million hours which cannot be spent on other activities such as education or income generation.

Women traditionally care for and protect the water resources, however in modern times the vast knowledge they have acquired is simply not acknowledged and utilised – instead it is often lost. Mariet Verhoef-Cohen said that the Women for Water Partnership, Soroptimist International and Business and Professional Women, have taken it upon themselves to draw attention to the important role women play as experts, as agents of change and partners in achieving equal universal access to water and sanitation – a mission to secure the combined implementation of SDG 5 and 6.

Mariet Verhoef-Cohen said that through experience, it has been found that water has always been an economic driver and a good entry point for empowering women. Involving both women and men in integrated water resource initiatives increases effectiveness and efficiency. Water management is largely seen as technology driven, and for generations technology has not been perceived as women’s business.

Mariet Verhoef-Cohen spoke of the barriers and how to remove them. She said this might be done by working together with men to show concrete examples of successful women in the water sector; by encouraging more women to be involved as policy experts, diplomats and professionals.

H.E. Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women at Women in Water Diplomacy as Key to Economic Empowerment

Many members of the Women for Water Partnership and local women organisations are being empowered, with members embarking on income generating projects or small scale businesses after access to water is secured. Women are learning how to deal with authorities, how to negotiate with suppliers, how to deal with the finances and to manage projects. She said, water is essential for most enterprises and without water, women have no time to start up their business.

Mariet Verhoef-Cohen questioned what we can do to change the situation?  She said that a change in the mind-set is required and that women need to be viewed as experts and agents of change rather than victims, vulnerable groups or beneficiaries only. Women need to have access to vocational training in water-related jobs and to be recognised as professionals in today’s world. Additionally, she said that we must combine the implementation of SDG 5 and 6 in national action plans. This does not happen automatically and we must influence the policymakers and budget holders. Many countries consider women and water issues as part of their priorities, but in practice there is little ‘horizontal’ coordination between the two. We are often faced with different ministries, different advisors, and different mechanisms, not only at country level but also in the UN.

Leanne Burney, Senior Consultant, UN-Water


Leanne Burney, Senior Consultant at UN-Water discussed the links between water and the SDGs. She commended those involved in raising awareness of the issues relating to water and sanitation, and underlined the relevance of this issue to this years’ priority theme, and also in the coming two years when the topic will gain further visibility. In 2018 the CSW Priority Theme will be Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls, and in 2019, the Priority Theme will be Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. She spoke of the lack of sex-disaggregated data being a major obstacle to the production of scientific evidence on gender-related inequalities in the water realm, sharing that 45.2% of countries do not produce any gender statistics related to water (gender water data is amongst the least available of national-level indicators according to a 2013 survey by the UN Statistical Commission). She said that there was a need for a realistic picture and that we need to create a gender baseline knowledge related to water and a global standard for gender sensitive water monitoring.



Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Subscribe to receive the Soroptimist International Newsletter by email.