Sri Lanka’s Water Pioneer Calls for Global ‘Women & Water’ Day

Kusum Athurkorala calls for one international day to recognize both women and water

International Water Association Kusum Athurkorala Women and Water Day

The 2012 Women in Water Award winner—Sri Lanka’s water pioneer Kusum Athurkorala—has boldly called for one international day to recognize both women and water.

Speaking at the International Water Assn.’s (IWA) World Water Congress and Exhibition in Korea this week, Athukorala claimed that the water industry is still a "male-dominated and technocentric" environment.

“We have still not got to the point where we are engaging with half of humanity's human resources,” Athukorala said. “Forget equity or gender if it raises hackles. Call it the optimization of human resources”.

Athukorala—a pioneer of gender inclusion in the water sector—is internationally recognized for her work in water resources management, gender and water and limitations to water management.

She was announced as the third winner of IWA’s Women in Water Award at the association’s weeklong 2012 World Water Congress in Korea. The award recognizes the extensive achievements of a female engineer or scientist who has been working in the water sector for more than 10 years.

Athukorala founded the Network of Women Water Professionals and developed many successful water and sanitation projects. She is also a representative of the Women for Water Partnership, a global alliance of female organizations and networks active in water, sanitation, poverty and gender programs.

With regard to gender equity, Athukorala acknowledges it is not a new topic. “So don’t approach it like a rhinoceros in a glass workshop,” she said.

Her idea of the international women and water day, she said, “Would be something very concrete. It is something that will have global impact—it is visionary.”

She suggested that it be dated between International Women’s Day on March 8 and World Water Day on March 22.

IWA started the Women in Water program in 2008 to support and encourage women to stay in the water sector.

The association’s Young Water Professionals group is predominantly female—60%—but this number declines dramatically after the age of 35, during career development.

Paul Reiter, executive director for IWA has been the key driver for the Women in Water program. “The IWA has a better women representation than the industry generally, but I am still not satisfied with where we are at," Reiter said. "I really feel strongly about this—that’s why we have the Women in Water program.”

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International Water Assn.

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