A Memory of Water Scarcity; From the Tibetan Plateau to the Pink River
Kha Kyi Gyel is a young leader working with Weaving Bonds Across Borders (WBAB), a global network working predominantly with young women across Asia including women from ethnic minorities from conflict affected areas.
She recently participated in a five-day summer school course organised by the Regional Centre for Social Sciences and Sustainable Development (RCSD) of Chiang Mai University, an initiative supported by Oxfam’s Inclusion Project and funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
During my visit to WBAB in end of January 2019, I got a chance to speak to Kha and learn about her experience of the RCSD course.
Kha spoke of her childhood days; as a young girl, she watched her community in the northwest of Tibetan region in China struggle dealing with water scarcity, which led to many people abandoning their farms and look for other livelihoods. Many even migrated to other places to earn money leaving women alone in the villages.
“Earlier I thought the main issue was land and ownership of land for women but after joining WBAB and also participating in summer school, I understand that land and water are very much interconnected and access to water resources is also a major issue for women,” she said.
Kha said RCSD and Inclusion Project helped her realise the importance of confronting gender issues in water governance.
Kha told me she moved from the Tibetan plateau to Chiang Mai, Thailand. After completing her graduation, Kha worked with an NGO that focused on women’s empowerment in Tibetan region in China, which encouraged her to study and won a seven-month scholarship with EarthRights International (ERI), before receiving a Masters in International Development from Chiang Mai University. Now, Kha is pursuing her PhD in Gender and Women Studies and working with Weaving Bonds Across Borders (WBAB).
The RCSD summer school course brought academics, government representatives and civil society members together to critically analyse water governance issues such as water scarcity, hydropower development and impacts on fisheries, and who was most affected by them.
Lead by Dr. Philip Hirsch, Emeritus Professor of Geography, School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney and a water expert based at RCSD, Chiang Mai University, the course was very comprehensive, according to Kha, and provided both theoretical and field learning experiences, highlighting how women are the most affected by water governance issues.
Participants were given chance to interact with downstream communities in Thailand, who were dependent on the river, but were facing water scarcity issues due to upstream development.
Kha said the course provided opportunities to critically analyse water governance policies and research so participants could have a greater understanding about the different perspectives around these issues. The extensive stakeholder mapping and the analysis of literature helped participants understand the effects upstream development projects can have on downstream communities and their livelihoods.
Kha noted how, despite the extensive researches such as the most recent Council study by Mekong River Commission, governments are still failing to implement these findings into meaningful policies and practices, particularly regarding gender impacts.
“Ï felt the issues of women, where WBAB is working in Shan state of Myanmar are still not taken into account in the national policies especially for single women,” she said,
“The harassment and discrimination that single women face is much more intensive. Getting their legal rights including their right to ownership of land has been a challenge.”
WBAB with support from Oxfam is working to address water governance issues, participating in capacity building training and learning exchanges. Kha said she is thankful to RCSD, Chiang Mai University and Oxfam for supporting groups like WBAB, for providing opportunities to learn, promote the issue of women and encourage critical thinking among all the relevant stakeholders.
“The participation in the summer school inspired me to include a chapter on water governance in the research that I am currently working on,” she said.
 ERI school program aims at building capacity of civil society leaders in Mekong region with the knowledge and skills to defend and promote earth rights in their communities. The curriculum includes transboundary issues that affect the entire region, including Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, with a special emphasis on hydropower dams on the Mekong River. https://earthrights.org/how-we-work/training/earthrights-school/
 The RCSD Summer School was supported by Oxfam as part of the DFAT Australia, funded Inclusion project