Header image: Finland’s ambassador to Nepal (a woman), with EU, Embassy of Finland and SUSWA PSU representatives (all men) standing next to her.
A brief reflection by the organizer of the event at PSU, Field Specialist Hanna Kankkunen.
In the end, 100+ participants attended from the 160+ that were invited, which can be considered to indicate widespread interest in SUSWA, especially as the invitations were sent out the same week as the event by the Ministry of Water Supply. The fact that the majority of municipalities invited attended bodes well for the continued collaboration in Karnali! The feedback both during and post the event has been overwhelmingly positive and we believe all those involved agree the event delivered on it’s main purpose of clarifying SUSWA’s role as a government project and strengthening government ownership and commitments at all levels.
However, there are other indicators of success that the event didn’t do as well on. Of the over 100 participants, less than 20 were women. Of the 12 speakers at the event, only 2 were women, and neither were Nepali. Further, there was little diversity. Only 10 of the participants reported their ethnicity/caste as Dalit, Janajati or Thakuri, with the rest who reported were Brahmin or Chhetri, traditionally considered higher castes. Karnali was, however, well represented among those attending, and there was some age diversification, with 16% of participants were under the age of 30 and 22%of participants over the age of 50.
Despite an effort having been made on SUSWA’s part to invite women (e.g., inviting two people from each municipality so that vice-chairpersons could attend), and sending separate invites to WASH Cluster and KADMM members (many of the organizations are the same in both alliances, but there are more women staff representing the organizations as members of KADMM), the event itself was male-dominated. This is unfortunate as the event also showed division following somewhat ‘traditional’ gender lines, with the representatives and specialists from Nepal government, Embassy of Finland, the EU and development partners, as well as the speakers from the SUSWA PSU, all being men. Women, on the other hand, had more event-facilitatory roles such as Master of Ceremonies (MC), event organizing (and e.g., taking care of registration) from PSU and communication related tasks (e.g., journalists, photographers). The ambassadors of Finland and the European Union to Nepal, as well as ensuring the chair of KADMM, Anita Gyawali from the Ministry of Social Development, would participate, were exceptions to this. Having a young woman from Karnali be the MC of this high-level event, is hopefully also a clear sign of the direction SUSWA is striving for and wants to support. Further, there was an effort to bring rights holders voices from SUSWA working area, especially that of women, to the high-level event by projecting images and videos from the International Women’s Day celebrations and having the Stories of SUSWA up on the walls.
As SUSWA aims for gender parity at local government and community level, SUSWA PSU must also look inward and ask ourselves what efforts we must make now, to ensure that a similar event 5-years from now will be closer to gender parity, especially when it comes to speaking/expert positions. This can include training and empowering of women vice-chairs and municipality officers, building stronger networks among women working in development organizations in Karnali, and continuing to give opportunities to women whenever we can, such as our MC this time. These are all plans SUSWA already has. However, this also requires SUSWA PSU to look at it’s own staff and e.g., choosing to invite women specialists on topics instead of speaking on them ourselves. A rule to implement for SUSWA staff should be to never participate in all-male panels, and see it as our personal responsibility to know when we should use our specialist or advisor position to invite a woman expert to take our place at an event.
Efforts made from an environmental perspective included working with the event location (Suva hotel) to ensure there are no single use plastics (water bottles, cutlery), put recycling in place and to only serve plant based food, apart from one fish-dish at lunch. These actions fall short, however, when nearly 20% of the participants flew to and from the event from Kathmandu, and the majority of participants using private vehicles to attend the event. SUSWA PSU did already provide online participation as an option for this event, but during the coming years, we can work harder to make events truly hybrid, so that participants feel that participating (not just listening in) online is a valid option.
I believe the SUSWA project truly can support positive steps towards gender equality in Karnali following our current plans and strategy, despite the many challenges there are, but the event was a good reminder that the first step requires looking at ourselves and asking what we can do for equity in the here and now. This is perhaps especially important when you are an all-male Project Support Unit in a male dominated industry in a patriarchal nation. When there is no control of a high-level guest list, what space we ourselves choose to take and what efforts we choose to make to open up that space to others is what matters. At the next PSU organized event, I am sure indicators related to inclusion will show that we have learned from this.