WaterAid Australia and WSAA took the opportunity to collaborate recently with the celebration of International Women’s Day. While our organisations do different work, the outcomes we want to achieve are scarcely different, ultimately we both want to raise awareness of the role of women in water – overseas and here in our own backyard.
Our event on International Women’s Day, with women – and a smattering of men - from around the country but in particular South East Queensland, sought to highlight the role of water for indigenous Australian’s, the role of water for women in some of the poorest and most marginalised countries in the world and the role of women in our own water industry here in Australia.
Straight up we were reminded of the deep connection Aboriginal women have with water by Leanne Ruska, Director of Nunukul Yuggera Yugimbir Nugi Aboriginal Dance Troupe. Leanne, a descendant of the Yuggera people of Ipswich reminded me how much more we can learn from our indigenous communities as she explained the role of the Rainbow Serpent as the female serpent and ruler of the river, the Brisbane River.
Rosie Wheen, CEO of WaterAid, may have had the men in the room shuffling their feet as she discussed in detail the importance of menstrual hygiene and assistance to get more girls and women in developing countries go to school and work. But what a powerful message it was. WaterAid’s work promotes the rights of women and girls to access WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) - part of the puzzle to unlocking the changes signed onto in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goals that are bold and transformative, and address peace, people, prosperity, partnership and our planet.
Water and its role in sanitation and hygiene unlocks many things we often don’t think about, such as the connections between access to water and sanitation and access to education, health, dignity and opportunity.
Professor Peter Hoj, Vice Chancellor of the University of Queensland (UQ) contributed a very personal yet funny and positive view of diversity and inclusiveness. The research industry is a large employer of women but faces the same challenges to keep women researchers and academics participating and employed. He explained that access to childcare has not always been an area of strength for universities, so UQ and indeed many research institutions, are implementing new strategies for closer, more accessible and more flexible child care facilities.
As the final speaker, Nicole Hollows, WSAA Board Member and CEO of SunWater Ltd launched WSAA’s paper on diversity and inclusiveness in the water industry. Urban water businesses in Australia have significantly lifted their focus on inclusion and diversity in recent years. They continue to recognise that diverse workforces make better decisions, improve innovation and deliver better outcomes for the community.
Of course, our Paper is just the start of the conversation on inclusion and diversity but it tries to highlight new approaches and the breadth and depth of initiatives. We all know collaboration is key to solving many problems and hopefully the Paper will be used to share and learn about leading practices like Icon Water’s pilot program of inclusive or ‘blind’ recruitment to support greater diversity in the recruitment pipeline and Power and Water Corporation’s partnership with the Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre to support and provide young Indigenous Territorians with the same opportunities as their non-Indigenous peers.
I personally invite you to take a look at our Paper and engage with us about what’s missing or what really needs attention, or even better, engage your own organisation in a discussion on how diversity and inclusiveness can be improved in the industry and more broadly in our society. I also invite you to go to WaterAid’s website to better understand WASH and see how you can get involved.