March 14th marks the International Day of Action for Rivers - a day (amongst many) where communities band together to celebrate the conversations & initiatives that are happening to support and protect our natural river ways.
This year's theme celebrates the exclusive role of women in protecting and managing the health of our rivers; an ‘action’ that is still considered immaterial in some cultures and countries today.
In most cultures, women are considered the primary users of water in their households and communities. Tasked with securing, maintaining, and using water resources in agriculture, fisheries, forest and land management, women sustain life through their relationships to water (InternationalRivers.org).
But despite this affiliation, women are (still) far less represented in the decision-making process when it comes to the future of our waterways and rivers.
Catherine Hamilton, WSP Opus Technical Principal for Landscape Architecture has been involved in many of WSP Opus' open space design and planning projects - where rivers are part of the wider landscape.
Often, an element of her role involves reinstating the life of a river that has been degraded due to poor land use practice. A recent project is the Scott Point Sustainable Sports Park masterplan; which will see the degraded Nimrod Stream return to a healthy inlet of the Waitemata Harbour. Catherine has also been involved in numerous native revegetation projects along stream corridors in which her team plan for the removal of noxious and unwanted plant species and design and replant with eco-sourced native plant species.
Catherine was the master planner and engagement lead for the work WSP Opus carried out for Scott Point Sustainable Sports Park.
We caught up with Catherine to discuss her views on women in the context of 'action for rivers'.
"Women in the developing world play a fundamental role in managing water at the family level – the building block of the village/society. Their reliance on clean water for cooking and sanitation, and on the water in general for agriculture, is a matter of survival. I believe these women have very little power to influence the management of rivers, as they have little say in social and economic development decisions. They are often just surviving. Yet their immediate reliance on nature suggests they may also possess greater wisdom about sustainable management of water compared with women in developed countries who are generally less connected with resources at the source.
The developed world is different. Women have access to education, which means they have a greater chance to be in positions of influence through knowledge, employment and application of their knowledge. Patriarchal power structures still stand in the way, but educated women’s voices have a better chance of being heard.
That said, I feel fortunate that as a landscape architect I am able to influence design and planning decisions related to rivers and waterways that contribute to their biophysical health, identity, aesthetics, cultural values including memory and meaning."