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History of the Creation of the Central Asia and Afghanistan Women and Water Association – CAAWWA

By Dr. Ingrid Verstraeten, Robyn McCutcheon, and Elina Doszhanova

Following a successful regional water resources meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, in 2015, focused on remote sensing applications in water resources where women were strongly encouraged to participate, Dr. Ingrid Verstraeten, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Senior Science Advisor/Chief for Europe, Russia, Central Asia and the Arctic, Ms. Robyn McCutcheon, formerly Central Asia Environment, Science, Technology, and Health (ESTH) Hub Officer at the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Kazakhstan in coordination with Ms. Elina Doszhanova, Director of the Socio-Ecological Fund (SEF) PF of Kazakhstan decided to create actions in order to empower women in Central Asia and Afghanistan involved in water resources in 2015. Dr. Verstraeten and Ms. McCutcheon created a proposal for funding by the US State Department Bureau of Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs (OES) to empower women in the region. Moreover, they aided SEF in submitting a proposal to TengizChevrOil LLP in Kazakhstan in order to engage women in the region and explore the creation of an Association. Both proposals were funded! And thus, through these efforts Dr. Verstraeten, Ms. McCutcheon, and Ms. Doszhanova became the original founders of the Association.
As both proposals were funded, they organized a regional workshop entitled “Empowerment of Women in Sustainable Management of Water Resources in Central Asia and Afghanistan” that was held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, 16-18 June, 2016. It provided an excellent opportunity to engage and empower women from the region and allowed for regional network building. At this meeting, more than 40 participants from Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Romania, Germany, Italy, and the United States participated representing their countries, research institutes, or international organizations. The main purpose was to engage and create a new network of women scientists, engineers, managers, and policy makers in the discussion and decision making process of critical issues regarding improved scientific understanding of the resource, promotion of open data policy, increasing access to water, and enhancing job opportunities with increased responsibilities of women in the region in order to improve inter-governmental and transboundary collaboration. The meeting was a tremendous success with suggestions for future actions.

The agenda also included a half-day surface water and groundwater field and cultural trip within the Almaty region led by several institutions from Almaty, Kazakhstan. The field trip allowed for increased interaction and local knowledge sharing. Twenty-five female and male students from Central Asia and Afghanistan participated in the workshop for a half-day to listen to the participants’ presentations and discussions and had the opportunity to ask questions or offer comments. This interaction with a junior generation enhanced the outcome of the workshop.

At the conclusion of this 2016 workshop, participants expressed their interest in continuing efforts to establish an association to work on gender issues in water resource management in Central Asia and Afghanistan. In particular, they requested to engage more women professionals working in the water management sector in the network, create information platforms to exchange and facilitate learning and career development, develop a regional organization addressing common gender issues in the sector, as well as partner with ongoing global and regional programs such as those by the UNESCO WWAP, WfWP, USGS, and the German-Kazakh University. Women suggested carrying out small research projects and events in their countries to gain understanding of women’s possibilities and barriers in professional development and engagement in decision making in the water sector in the region.

Since then and with the continued support of TengizChevrOil LLP in Kazakhstan, the “Socio-Ecological Fund”, US State Department, and USGS, local professional women carried out activities and created a regional Central Asia and Afghanistan Women and Water Association (CAAWWA) that includes representation from all Central Asian countries including Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. The official launch of CAAWWA occurred in July 12-13, 2017. At that meeting selected leaders from Central Asia and Afghanistan adopted a mission statement, created and adopted bylaws, and established a Steering Committee (SC) for the organization. They also welcomed the creation of an International Advisory Committee. The meeting represented a transfer of initiative and decision making from USGS, SEF, and U.S. State Department to local women water professionals representing their countries in the region. After the strategy meeting in July 2017, the SC carried out significant work to create the network and further the development of the organization through projects and outreach activities in the region.

CAAWWA mission statement:

“Enhancing opportunities of women in scientific, technical and political aspects in water resources management and climate change issues, building up capacity, improving their career development and engage them in decision making processes to strengthen international cooperation.”

The association is governed by an elected six-person Steering Committee. A secretariat implements SC decisions and carries out day-to-day functions. The SC adopted an action plan consistent with the outcomes of the June 2016 workshop on the empowerment of women in water resource management in Central Asia and Afghanistan. An official logo was created in 2017. At the time CAAWWA was founded, the director of the “Socio-Ecological Fund” Public Fund (SEF) NGO located in Almaty served as regional facilitator.

Additionally, the SC established an appointed External Advisory Board (EAB) that initially included representatives from the Women for Water Partnership (WfWP), the UNESCO World Water Assessment Program, the German-Kazakh University, UN Women, the U.S. Geological Survey, OSCE and the World Bank. They represent local, regional and international organizations, development institutions, scientific and educational institutes and private companies, with knowledge, experience, and interest in promoting the mission of the Association and further organizational development. They advise on thematic activities but do not participate in decision-making regarding budget allocation and management of the association.

A second CAAWWA Regional Steering Committee meeting was held on November 2, 2017, in Almaty, Kazakhstan to discuss further steps and hear reports on country activities. The Steering Committee and External Advisors together with other CAAWWA members received an update from each other, and discussed ways to move forward in strengthening the Association and implement their country projects.

The CAAWWA SC held a third meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on February 13, 2017, where SC members participated in an UN-led international water forum February 14-15, 2017. The SC and External Advisors who were present discussed ongoing issues needing action, listened to updates, and approved activities for further action in the region.

The Association continues to develop further with a fourth SC meeting coming up in June 2018 in Dushanbe on the side of the High Level UN Water Meeting. A number of innovative actions have been implemented and the Association continues to grow!