Women’s press

Women & Water Rights
WordsAndPictures: Who owns the Mississippi River and other bodies of water? Questions about water rights and gender are raised through an art exhibit and events held at the University of Minnesota
Liz Dodson/Video Clip
Liz Dodson/Video Clip
Women and Water Rights: Rivers of Regeneration has been organized by members of the University of Minnesota Dept. of Art, the Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA) and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

by Norma Smith Olson

Who has the right to bodies of water, in our state, our country, our world? What are the issues involved in making water available to us? How does gender affect the right to water?

These are just some of the questions a group of women began asking a couple of years ago. Their inquiry has blossomed into a project called Women and Water Rights: Rivers of Regeneration, which includes a visual arts exhibit, with music, dance and poetry performances, a two-day symposium and multiple lectures.

“Bringing awareness, gathering unity and encouraging legislation about the global fresh water crisis-and the part that women play” is what all of this activity is about, said Liz Dodson, board member on the Women’s Caucus for Art and coordinator of the project. “We can see [the crisis] especially in Africa, where women are the ones who need to gather fresh water for their families. Here, in Minnesota, it’s about women being part of water management efforts.”


In many countries, women and girls walk two to three miles several times a day carrying 30 to 40 pounds of water for their families, according to the humanitarian group, H2O for Life. Spending several hours each day just getting water often leaves no time for these girls to go to school. In addition, if there are no proper sanitation facilities available, one in 10 girls drops out of school when she starts menstruating.

According to the United Nations Water for Life! initiative, 18 percent of the world’s population lack access to safe drinking water and 42 percent lack access to basic sanitation. More that 2.2 million people die each year from diseases associated with these conditions.

The timing for the Women and Water Rights project (WWR) is appropriate as 2010 has been proclaimed “The Year of Water” by the Fresh Water Society. The Women and Water Rights project dates were chosen to correspond with Women’s History Month. And, March 2010, is in the middle of the United Nations’ International Decade for Action, the Water for Life! 2005-2015 agenda. The U.N. hopes to cut in half the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Local action

The month-long WWR project began on Feb. 26 at a reception at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus. Percussionists from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the Women’s Drum Center performed and a Native American water ritual was offered by the Keepers of the Waters.

At the center of the WWR project is the exhibit of work by around 50 women artists from Minnesota and around the world. Displayed in the Nash Gallery of the Regis Center for Art, their artwork is inspired by the symbolism and deep meaning of water.

Throughout the month of March, events will be held to challenge people to think analytically and emotionally about global and local water rights. March 3 is Eco/Education Day for high school students and will include Water Dance-a youth performance of poetry, music, visual art and dance by students from the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

A two-day symposium: Global Policy-Local Action will be held on March 4 and 5. Women experts in ecology and water management will discuss issues of accountability and guardianship that will ensure that access to water is a fundamental human right.

The project will wrap up with a series of speakers and performances, March 23-25, Inspiring Women Connecting for Action.

Awareness and action about water rights are the key factors in the WWR pro-ject efforts according to Dodson. “We need a groundswell of people saying to our legislators [about water legislation]: ‘pass them.’ [But],” Dodson continued, “it’s not just counting on legislators to do the right thing, we have to get in there and activate for things to happen.”