Women Water Warriors

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The movement to protect rivers and rights is full of amazing women. In our March 2011 World Rivers Review, we asked just a few of them to talk about the rivers they love. Their inspirational stories give us hope that the link between humans and healthy rivers is not yet irreparably broken. 

Our River is Our Name: Caleen Sisk-Franco, Tribal Chief and Spiritual Leader, Winnemem Wintu Tribe, (California, U.S.A)
The name of my tribe, Winnemem Wintu, translates to Middle Water people and is taken from the name of our river, the Winnemem Waywakit, which is bounded by the Upper Sacramento to the West and the Pit River to the East. Now known to most as the McCloud River, it rises from glacial waters in the Cascades, and it runs so clean you can clearly see the rocks, sand and insects that populate its bottom.

The Rivers Will Rise Again: Liane Greeff (South Africa)
The earliest river I remember was the nameless one across the road from our house where I grew up - just a small stream flowing through the leafy suburb ironically named Bergvliet, which means mountain stream. One day they came with bulldozers and concrete pipes, and when we woke the next day, the river was gone, completely gone. Not knowing what is lost is part of the tragedy of rivers for me - that they are destroyed or compromised and the new people don't even know what once was.

Love at First Sight: Dipti Bhatnagar (India)

The first time I saw her I was awestruck. She was everything I had heard about, and more. I had just turned a corner and reached the top of the hill near Village Mal, when I looked down and saw the mighty Narmada River. It was monsoon 2002, and it had been raining all night, causing the river to slowly rise at the banks. The river was also welling up inside me. Only later did I realize how much my life was changed at that moment by the Narmada, and the historic struggle to save her, which I have been a part of since that momentous day.

Dams Equal Death: Larissa Elena Duarte (Panama)

The Rio Cobre is our earthly paradise, our joy, our pride, our support, our identity and especially our home. The river does not belong to the community, we belong to it. That is why when we learned that they want to dam it to produce electricity, which is not for the benefit of our communities but for the profit of private businesses, we get angry. We will fight so they don't deal with the river as a commodity. It has been almost 8 years since rural women, with their children and husbands began their struggle to give voice to the small but brave Rio Cobre. 

The Zambezi River: My Inspiration: Anabel Lemos, (Zambia)

The first time I saw the Zambezi, I fell in love with this marvelous river and its people. A night on the river is unforgettable, the peacefulness of the night with a sky full of stars, the water flowing, the sound of hippos and of drums in the distance - it is one of the most wonderful and magical experiences. The more time you spend along the Zambezi the more you understand its beauty. Seeing the way traditional habits harmonize with natural patterns, how floods link up with with floodplain farming, the way wildlife migration patterns and mating timed themselves to seasonal changes of the river. A beautiful coexistence has been achieved through millions of years of coevolution.

A Warrior for China’s Free Flowing Rivers: Wang Yongchen, (China)

Wang has been called an "environmental poet," as she has spent her lifetime making poetry out of the places she visits with her camera, pen and recorder. She says: "I am often regarded as a woman who is building a grand environmental-protection project. But I think that I am part of nature. And I am only doing what everyone should be doing." According to Wang, women have been critical to the growth of NGOs in China, and indeed are the majority of those participating in NGO activities. Women in China are also often the most negatively impacted by large dam projects.