Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: Water Unites Us. It's nearly the perfect topic for water health researcher Dr. Corinne Schuster-Wallace.
"Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: Water Unites Us" was the theme of this year's International Day of Women and Girls in Science. And the 7th International Day of Women & Girls in Science United Nations Assembly invited speakers from all over the world to deliver best practices, strategies, and applied solutions to ensure that women have equal participation and access to science. USask water-health researcher delivers the following opening and closing remarks to the assembly.
She presented the following key remarks- and video and made closing recommendations at the event.
Full Remarks to the UN
Within the Global Water Futures program and my collaborations with Save the Mothers East Africa, we have approached equity, diversity, and inclusion with respect to sustainable water resources using multiple mechanisms. These include recognizing the importance of co-creating research and solutions, and intentionally making space for people from equity-deserving groups to be employed across the water sector, at decision tables, and engaged in research. With my colleagues, I host a Women+Water lecture series to highlight women researchers and catalyse conversations about gendered dimensions of water. I undertake community-based, collaborative research on water issues that are important to communities. We have developed a university-highschool course with a First Nation community to build bridges, enhance capacities, and find solutions. It is my belief that these types of collaborations move us closer to equitable and sustainable water solutions.
Universally people have to be able to rely on sustainable access to water for their lives and livelihoods as well as food and energy security. This equity, sustainability, and security provides building blocks for reduced interpersonal, intra-household, and inter-community conflict and is important for resilience in the face of our changing water futures.
Moving forward, I believe that we must:
- Commit to evidence informed decisions and solutions that build from disaggregated data and consider equity implications;
- Braid Traditional Knowledge, local knowledge, and modern science to implement the best water solutions;
- Strengthen collaborations between researchers, communities, and policy-makers while emphasizing participation of people from equity-deserving groups;
- Enhance and better disseminate tools and models that support prediction and management, and the capacities and resources required for their use; and,
- Embed the connection between the climate crisis and the water crisis more explicitly in all policies and strategies and embed (gender) equity along with health and well-being into water policies and strategies.
As we have heard from many voices inside and outside United Nations organizations, the climate crisis is the water crisis. Everyone is aware of the urgency with which we need to achieve universal access to water, sanitation, and hygiene, especially for women and girls. This is a key element for climate resilience at the household and community level, yet progress is threatened in some regions by water-related disasters. Internationally, as a contribution to the Water for Life Decade, I led a project designed to learn from women who have implemented WaSH initiatives in their communities. This is a key EDI strategy – asking and learning from local women. Across more than 150 projects, these local women identified a series of key steps to enhance the participation of women in WaSH and to ensure that local and gendered needs are considered in design and implementation of WaSH projects, including baseline surveys to assess needs, existing resources and strengths, and opportunities and embedding projects within local institutions for greater sustainability.
We also know that people are differentially impacted by water-related disasters. People are affected in different ways and to different degrees, both by the events themselves and by their experiences. Some people have individual resilience, or access to resources that provide different levels of protection, such as strong social networks, and social safety nets. These differential experiences are areas where we need to continue research and develop the evidence base for effective interventions. Forecasting, which is being enhanced through Global Water Futures research and model development in Canada, can provide early warnings to reduce damages and facilitate evacuation, but this only works when people have timely access to these early warning systems and places to go and we know that these are particular challenges that affect women and other equity-deserving groups. This emphasizes the need to engage in the intersection between research, policy, and practice.
We also need to recognize the significant value of local and Indigenous knowledge and the Indigenous systems that have existed for millennia that keep people and nature in balance. Within Global Water Futures, we have funded projects through a co-designed call for proposals that solicited co-created research ideas co-led by Indigenous communities and organisations and university researchers as a way to prioritise Indigenous Knowledge in research.
In order to make sure that we know who is vulnerable, where they are vulnerable, and why they are vulnerable, we need data and information that account for intersecting identities, such as gender, age, ethnicity, ability, and socio-economic status. We also need people from equity deserving groups represented in decision-making, practice, and research to be able to innovate equitable and sustainable solutions and target investments and priorities. Within Global Water Futures, Dr. Andrea Rowe and I have designed an equity, diversity, and inclusion strategy that goes beyond intentional progress towards inclusive environments in our work spaces. While this is extremely important, as a research program, we realised that we also needed to commit to equity, diversity, and inclusion in our research processes and in how our findings are communicated. This requires us to consider whose voices are engaged in designing the research question, how we collect data and who we include and exclude, who is involved in analyzing the data, and whether the ways in which we disseminate our findings reach the people who can most benefit from or act on them.
Additionally, through our Women+Water lecture series, we have been able to host conversations across disciplines and nation states that contribute to breaking down systemic barriers and drawing attention to gendered dimensions of water. For example, catalyzed by our conversations, the National Hydrological Service of Canada launched the Women in Water program which will run through to mid-2022. Their goal to increase women water field technicians in the federal government has already started to be realised since its launch in 2019.
In closing, on this International Day for Women and Girls in Science, I respectfully urge members of the General Assembly and the Nation States that they represent to recommit to enhancing water research and prediction capacities, particularly through advanced training of women and girls and people in other equity deserving groups. And to commit to increasing numbers of targeted hiring protocols for people in equity deserving groups, such as the one established by the National Hydrological Service of Canada.
I also urge everyone to recommit to collecting disaggregated data that facilitate a better understanding of differential costs, benefits, and tradeoffs associated with our water resources, particularly with respect to marginalized people within equity-deserving groups.
The climate crisis is the water crisis, but, ongoing commitments to equity, diversity and inclusion; the continuation of dialogues across sectors and regions such as the ones today as part of the International Day for Women and Girls in Science; the efforts of innovations such as Cansu Global and Global Water Futures; and, the use of research and evidence can reduce impacts and move us towards appropriate and sustainable water access, management, and governance for all.