CII’s water summit: Lack of women representation reflects on patriarchal mindset

Open letter on missing women in the 2020 CII-International Water Innovation Summit “For a Shared Water Future”, addressed to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti and other organizing partners with observations and suggestions from the students of TERI-School of Advanced Studies with a teacher and few others:

We learn from https://www.ciihive.in/Login.aspx?EventId=WATERINNOV that, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in association with Ministry of Jal Shakti, Department of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation is organizing International Water Innovation Summit “For a Shared Water Future” on 15-16 December 2020 over virtual platform. The Summit is also supported by the Partner Country, Canada (?), Platinum Partners ION Exchange & CII-Triveni Institute, and Silver Partners GRUNDFOS & Spray Engineering Devices (SED) Limited. The Summit promises to highlight the crucial link and interdependence of all through its theme ‘for a shared water future’ with thematic sessions to discuss water related challenges and brainstorm feasible solutions in coherence with the hydrological cycle. The Summit aims to promote integrated approach towards sustainable management of water resources. This sounds perfect! The speakers are experts in their own domains. However, looking closer to the summit details one finds that there are some serious issues in such summits that are organized using high resources yet end up less impactful to the ground.

As Master Students of TERI- School of Advanced Studies (deemed to be University) Delhi studying a course on, ‘Water Governance and Institutions’ and as a teacher teaching the course, we have observed a number of concerning issues in the organizing approach of the abovementioned event which requires attention and answer. They are,

  1. A country partner Canada is unclear whether that means High Commission of Canada in India or Canada Trade Office or what.
  2. The summit is termed international however, we don’t see any representation of speakers of international origin in the panels or any international organization/s including anyone from the Canada based.
  3. The summit excludes speakers from several Ministries that are intricately linked to the water sector and to the future of water in the country to name a few, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Central Ground Water Commission, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Biotechnology.
  4. The summit also excludes the representation of the populace in the summit, i.e., the Youth and the Women. The 17-member panel of speakers including the chief guest, Shri GS Shekhawat (Minister of Jal Shakti, GoI) and special address by Shri Suresh Prabhu (MP and wearing many hats) is comprised of All Men.

In this letter, the focus on part of the number 4 since we find exclusion of the youth and women is serious and linked to what is being learned and shared in the ongoing TERI’s course. Since the summit is about ‘For a Shared Water Future’, involvement of the future generation is deemed crucial especially those who are considered to be adult to be eligible for voting and more so when India is full of bright youth leaders. The world, including United Nations and our own Niti Ayog, too is recognizing the youth power, for example the Time Magazine’s ‘Kid of the Year’ identified is a young girl namely, Gitanjali Rao, from USA (https://time.com/5916772/kid-of-the-year-2020/). How does a summit talk about integration without inclusion of representation of the youth of the country? Still, with a heavy heart we are willing to keep the youth issue aside and instead focus on the equally concerning issue, the exclusion of Women in the Panel of Speakers since, there are several well-established women in the water and the vast and diverse allied sector that needs integration with the water per se.

Here is the Flyer of the summit that is taking rounds pan India that you may be aware of. When we came across it, we felt extremely disturbed and disappointed but at the same time felt encouraged to write this letter directing to the organizing committee and the speakers to highlight the issue besides bring the issue to the notice of the larger concerned populace of the society.

We like to also bring to your notice that the Constitution of India’s Articles 14, 15, 15(3), 16, 39(a), 39(b), 39(c) and 42 with specific importance in this regard grants equality to women and asks the national/state government and other organizations to take cognizance of the gender equity. In addition, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) number 05 that India is a signatory calls to achieve gender equality and empower women & girls. If summits and respectable organizations like the ones organizing the summit must be obliged to respect and attempt the global and country agendas and laws towards gender equity. How does a summit talk about integration without inclusion of representation of half the population of the country?

We like to bring to your notice that India hosts a near gender balanced population (with sex ratio of 108 males per 100 females, as per 2020, Niti Ayog) with equally gender balanced women experts in the vast and diverse water sectors located across the country despite the skewed education graph between men & women. Since the summit will be virtual (otherwise also), inviting some of the women speakers onboard was just a matter of acceptance and accommodation by the organizing committee. Just for example, Ms. Uma Bharati, who was our Union Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation until last year or Dr. Veena Khanduri who is Coordinator India Water Partnership, could have been invited besides calling a few water scientists pan universities including IITs-IIMs-TISS-TERI, or even some of the water practitioners from the office of the Women’s National Water Resources Council Indian Chamber of the Commerce and Industry (WICCI, https://wicci.in/sector-representative).

Most scientific & policy writings on water around the world are focused on women since women matter is inclusive of children, family and future management. Keeping women out of the discourses in such summits certainly does not lead the society to solve the water woes besides the women woes. As the panel of speakers come from divers and multi-disciplinary background, it is certain that women issues will be used as entry points of some of the panel discussions and then not having the women on board in such discussions may end up hollow talking and promising yet again. It has been noticed that when such events take place in physical, women are found in the roles of front desk, honoring guests, compering sessions, communicators, logistics arrangements, administrative, etc. which is sheer exploiting and humiliating the true potential of the gender balanced water discourse. For example, most of the CII-invites are sent by women incharge. Someone must do these tasks and is okay if women are assigned to do however, it is absolutely not okay to completely exclude participation of women intellectuals.

Needless to elaborate that the utmost issue of lack of women representation reflects once again the seriousness of our patriarchal society and has equally serious repercussions on the future of water issues as can be seen so far that men alone have been extremely challenged in solving the water (worldly) matters.

We have made our points and we rest any further elaboration besides adding few responses below from us. However, we appreciate a response on this matter from the organizing committee as whether it was purposeful to keep women out of the discourse or the issue went unnoticed to the members of the committee. The ‘all men’ summit format is unfortunate and unacceptable to us since, the future of women in the water sector looks grim besides the future of the water itself with this state of the men in the society.

As students & future leaders (both men and women) of the water sector, we wish develop trust and hope in the country’s outlook to gender issues and to a gender balanced approach to guide the future of the water. AS we learn in the course, Water Governance and Institutions, that women have crucial role in the wise use, conservation and management of the water (so as other sectors), the issues will be looked through and by a gender balanced perspective. As a teacher, I wish to provide hope to my students of the diminishing gender inequalities in all spheres with focus on water here, showing them the problems (like this summit) and the processes (like this letter) of working towards Gender Equity.

We do hope that you will take a deep cognizance of the gender issue raised here and undertake necessary amendments to the summit’s organizing besides any similar activities in future. We have prepared a list of the contacts of concerned officials-speakers of the summit to send this email besides the plan to send to the other important organizations in the country.

Should you like to discuss any of the above points or otherwise reach out to us, we are available at the contact mentioned at the beginning and below. Thank you!

Sincerely,

Students of TERI-SAS Course WSG-143 with Dr. Mansee Bal Bhargava (00919824092804)

Contacts of the organizing committee: marut.sengupta@cii.in, Sabyasachi.nayak@cii.in, sanjay.gupta@cii.in, pranab.dasgupta@cii.in, egov-mowr@nic.in, aswrs-mowr@nic.in, minister-mowr@nic.in, mos-mowr@nic.in, ieil@ionexchange.co.in, bnghocroser@ionexhange.co.in, rajeevnath.tiwari@sprayengineering.com, Preeti.Kathuria@cii.in, narendran@tatasteel.com, 

Contacts of the speakers: a.sikka@cgiar.org, rajuk@elico.cogcpati-cgwb@nic.in, mos-mowr@nic.in, psmos-mowr@nic.in, krc-njjm@gov.in, s.gupta.pwrda@punjab.gov.in, vmoni.cpcb@nic.in, neha@ho.trivenigroup.com,cnnarayanan@trivenigroup.comwbg@projects.trivenigroup.comcnnarayanan@trivenigroup.com, shares.ttl@trivenigroup.com, mihir.shah@ashoka.edu.in, venkataraman@grundfos.com, ajay.popat@ionexchange.co.in, mihirbhai25@gmail.com

Here are some responses from the signatories of this letter:

  1. Gender Equity in the policy, planning and projects must be led from the front from key organizations. Simply put, men have to learn to accommodate for women to be included in key decisions and actions. _Dr. Mansee Bal Bhargava, Ahmedabad
  2. The theme of the webinar is “Shared water future”. Is it possible to manage future water resources without women? Are the decisions led by women as a social performativity about food, sanitisation and household management not important for managing water resources. Already due to the ill-conceived development, climate change and increased pollution, water resources are pressurized by the dependency of socio-economic development. Is stability in managing water and its resources expected independent of gender inclusion? – Nidhi Puranik, Nagpur.
  3. Equity, equality, liberation, and inclusion serve as the foundation for the establishment of gender balance. Also, if we look at the impacts of climate change, women are seen to be more adaptive and they are also capable of coming up with the mitigation mechanisms to counter the disastrous consequences of climate change. Inclusion of women in the water sector will bring harmony and will also lead to addition of new perspectives to the various aspects of policy and industry. _Raghav Raja, New Delhi.
  4. At a time when women’s voices are rising all around the globe, they should be included in the water panel which decides the future of water. Women are more affected by water issues everywhere. Now it’s about time we stop perceiving women as mere household users of water and start giving them a voice in the high-level talks of the water sector; a much-needed change that will not only improve water sector policies but also be a step towards “a shared water future” which also happens to be the theme of this summit. _Mayank Prasher, Kangra.
  5. The value of the word equality is really questionable, even being in the 21st century, if such a prestigious panel is seen without any female dignitary then it becomes really mundane. Giving room to women in the podium in water or any other sector will not tighten the space but will surely widen the gaze. – Dayadra Mandal, Kolkata.
  6. The saddest part is that the Organizations are not willing to accept that they are gender biased and there is no respect to the rules of UN gender policies whatsoever. _Srishti Ramnani, New Delhi.
  7. I feel there should be an equal representation of all the genders. Women play a very important role in water management so including them in any sort of discussion will bring in a perspective which is very crucial. — Kasturi Basu, Panipat.
  8. It is not possible to address the needs of women without their participation at the front in the water panel. Women have their unique potential to contribute to their families and the community. So, building inclusive governance structures and strengthening the role of women in civil society is very much needed for proper implementation of the policies and betterment of the society. – Sayan Debnath, Kolkata.
  9. You preach of gender equality and equity. But in practice you’re all so ignorant. These boards should be called out to provide some explanation to elucidate hypocrisy. I fail to understand how this goes unnoticed by the authorities! Are people not able to check this? Or is it not even a priority? – Manika Saxena, Lucknow.
  10. After noticing the gender bias selection of speakers in the flagship event “Water Innovation Summit”, it hurted more to know that most of the key positions in CII, CGWB, National Water Policy Committee, are held by Men only. This reflects a dark present, where policy makers, decision makers seem to forget the role of women in the water industry till now. I believe this definitely will draw attention to why women are still invisible? – Balpreet Kaur, Punjab
  11. We, as the interdisciplinary group of students regret the attitude towards the immense ignorance of gender inclusion in the panel for discussion. We would like to know where the women speakers are in this creative and important discussion on water. All that is visible are the clear tacit prejudices, disparities, stereotypical and discriminatory behaviour.
  12. Ironically, the multi-national organisations leading the session that are supposed to be creating values and promoting positive interventions, taking holistic and integrated approaches, instead there seems clearer underrepresentation of women in leadership roles and unwelcoming thinking, marginalisation on fundamental grounds and failure to strike gender balance as an ethical and moral requirement.
  13. With hope to make people and parties concerned to rethink about the unrecognised and undercompensated efforts by women of this country being politicized and marked by ignorance, we need organisational environments in which both men and women can explore the full range of their individual capacities, nurtures women’s propensity to creativity and innovation and accepts the challenges to a heterogenic and dynamic relationships instead of managing only a homogenous unit.
  14. In the shared water future, are the decisions led by women as a social performativity about food, sanitisation and household management not important for managing water resources? Already due to the ill-conceived development, climate change and increased pollution, water resources are pressurized by the dependency of socio-economic development. Is stability in managing water and its resources expected independent of gender inclusion?
  15. We expect enabling, visionary and adaptive leadership, broadened viewpoints, fair social practices, more authenticity as a “collaborative change movement.” A harmonising rational structure that allows for capacity building for integration and respect of human rights is a progressive and peacekeeping solution.
  16. When water doesn’t see the difference between genders, why should we? I guess even men will agree that listening to women’s perspective about ‘shared water future’ is as necessary as the very existence of this innovation summit. Let the ‘nari shakti’ too, talk about the ‘jal shakti’. – Manisha, Jaipur

Signatures from others within the given deadline:

  1. Lokendra Balsaria, Ahmedabad
  2. Jatin Seth, Ahmedabad
  3. Dr. Ashwani Kumar, Ahmedabad
  4. Alka Parecha, Ahmedabad
  5. Neena Mirani Raicha, Rajnandgaon
  6. Darshan Desai, Ahmedabad
  7. Dr. Sandeep Pandey, Lucknow
  8. Dev Desai, Ahmedabad
  9. GEV, Sanjay, Indore
  10. Bhavana Ramrakhiani, Ahmedabad
  11. Persis Ginwalla, Ahmedabad
  12. GK Bhatt, Ahmedabad
  13. Dr. V.N. Sharma, Lucknow
  14. Swati Goswami, Ahmedabad
  15. Meenakshi Joshi
  16. Sushila, Ahmedabad
  17. Smita Pandya, Ahmadabad
  18. Beena Jadav , Ahmedabad
  19. Prita Jha, Ahmedabad
  20. Gautami Baviskar, Ahmedabad
  21. Ankita Gupta, Delhi
  22. Suresh Nautiyal, Uttarakhand
  23. Shreekumar, Nakre, Udipi,

WICCI Water Resources Council National and State Representatives:

  1. Dr. Bhakti Devi, Bengaluru, President
  2. Dr. Mansee Bal Bhargava, Ahmedabad, Vice President
  3. Radhica Kanniganti, Bengaluru
  4. Dr Nirmala Devi, Assam
  5. Dr. Sarika Kulkarni, Mumbai
  6. Sujaya Rathi, Bengaluru
  7. Sneha Pathak, New Delhi
  8. Vidya Ramesh, Bangalore

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