Women’s Empowerment in Water management, a Road to Climate Adaptation

In the past water used to be considered as the cheapest thing on Earth, especially in Bengal and other water rich regions of India. The real price of water was understood by the people living in the arid and draught prone regions. But situation has changed. As India is facing population growth, industrialization, urbanization and expansion of agriculture the cost of water is being understood, even in the areas where every cheap thing would have been compared with water. People are also becoming victim of depletion of water quality and shrinkage of resource. The most severe victims of water crisis are the people living under the poverty line.

When climate change poses a huge threat to sustainable availability of resources like land, water, forests and livestock, it gives rise to direct and immediate reflection on the productivity and usability of locally available resources. Climate change also has serious gender implications. In the rural areas women are most affected by the shortage of potable water, because they are responsible for procuring water for the family. They often have to walk several miles to collect potable water. Even if potable water is available locally the resource is inadequate and sometimes gives rises to conflicts. To improve the quality of life in the village water management at the grass root should start with to improve capabilities of rural women to adapt and cope with stresses and shocks induced by climate variability.

Climate change is experienced differently by men and women as they have different work domain and capabilities to cope with changes. In general men have options to take decision on crop choice or can migrate elsewhere to choose from other vocations. Women, on the other hand, have social bindings, responsibilities towards children and family and have less freedom to choose work options or migration.  Being responsible for accessing water for the household, women become the most vulnerable community when climate change poses a threat.  One of the main work domains of rural women is cooking and they are also responsible for providing food and nutrition for the family.

Given these differentials of work-load, vulnerability and disadvantages faced by women, it has become very important to increase capacity of women in water management in rural India.  They must be driven into roles which require better adaptation skills and capacities.

The simplest ways of involving women in climate change adaptation and water management are building their capacities in managing available resource scientifically. The major part of capacity building are increasing knowledge on  (a) effective storage of rainwater; (b) control of run-off (which causes soil erosion and adversely impacts soil quality, (c) management of both surface water and groundwater (d) conjunctive use of water for household and for irrigation. Women may also be involved in managing, in addition, the community ponds, traditional water harvesting structures and reviving indigenous knowledge in water conservation.

 Key interventions in water resources management should be to promote women to manage household and community water resources for multiple-use effectively. A few of the key interventions may be (1) conducting water audit of the household and planning multiple use of water (2) constructing simple methods of backyard water treatment facility (3) increasing storage capacity of community water bodies, (4) adapt rainwater harvesting system in household.

Effective participation of women in decision making related to water governance may be a major solution to adapt and combat the climate change and ensure food security.