Let’s Talk about Water and Women!

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Let’s Talk about Water and Women!

Where we are today and where we’re going

March seems to be  the month of recollection and recognition of issues that we face as global citizens. The United Nations subscribed days in  the month that acknowledges nature and nature’s contribution to people cover issues viz., wildlife, forests, water, youth and sustainability…quick notes on some of those, along with the attempt to explain interconnections, especially-water and women.

Selected Examples 

March 3: World Wildlife Day-Theme ‘Listen to the young voices’-to celebrate biodiversity and to raise awareness on benefits that conservation and sustainable use

March 8 : International Women’s Day -Theme ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030’ – to promote the theme as #BeBoldForChange.

March 21 : International Day of Forests- Theme ‘Forests and energy’- to raise awareness of the importance of all types of woodlands and trees, and celebrate the ways in which they sustain and protect us [http://www.un.org/en/events/forestsday/]

March 22: World Water Day- Theme ' Why Wastewater?- to reduce and reuse as over 80% of all the wastewater from our homes, cities, industry and agriculture flows back to nature polluting the environment and losing valuable nutrients and other recoverable materials [http://www.un.org/en/events/waterday/]

Some context:

Water and Women- generally speaking, that’s a pretty much of an organic connection at the household level and in the society. Whilst, the equation of gender balance in decision making on water governance may not be that explicit. Women are formally considered a critical stakeholder group since the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace (1976–1985).

The words of American women’s right activist, Susan B. Anthony started to move from words into action: ‘The day will come when men will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race’ .

The labor movement, the voting rights demands, the need to recognize gender defined roles and rights in a society- we have passed these stages as a global society. Following the landmark events, the Millennium Development Goals that launched in 2000 introduced gender indicators, and revealed worrying trends-e.g women hold title to less than 2 per cent of the world’s private land.(http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/2015_MDG_Report/pdf/MDG%202015%20Summary%20web_english.pdf)

There is significant body of literature and good recognition that women contribute substantively to water resources based  livelihood strategies as critical stewards of natural and household resources. For example-even though the work force of women in fisheries exceed more than 50 percent, they still remain at a disadvantage in the labor market in terms of resource ownership, decision making on the resource, income equality and recognition as a key stakeholder in decision making.

The 2015 development agenda (SDG’s https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300) brings hope for further progress and illustrates how society is progressing toward the goal of gender equality. More than half of the total world population is women. As such they are connected with each of the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals- referred here-forth as G- with goal number in parenthesis)(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300).

Some Examples  (where we are today )

There are many useful examples of how women are effective in areas such as water management, climate change mitigation, disaster reduction and adaptation strategies and as holders of strong body of knowledge and expertise, that is essential for building disaster-resilient communities (G11) (http://www.iitk.ac.in/nicee/wcee/article/14_10-0049.PDF). Or in agriculture, (http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i2050e/i2050e01.pdf) where women comprise an average of 43 percent of the labor force in different countries (Latin America, Eastern Asia and sub-Sharan Africa). Despite this they have less land, less access to water and use fewer inputs. Consequently they produce less. Closing this gap could generate significant gains for the food production sector and for society to achieve other SDG’s (G1, G2 and G8). However, there remains critical challenges, for example, in Latin America, Africa and, parts of Asia, women still carry the burden and challenge of carrying water for domestic and agricultural uses, this is especially true for indigenous and rural communities.(http://www.un.org/womenwatch/feature/climate_change/downloads/Women_and_Climate_Change_Factsheet.pdf.Walking many kilometers daily, with children, to fetch water or meet household needs have distanced them from opportunities of education and integration in the contemporary societies.  This well-known story remains a reality in the 21st Century. (http://www.wikigender.org/wiki/women-and-water-resource-management-in-africa/ ).Sharing such stories demonstrating how women are embedded in issues around water management, climate change mitigation, disaster reduction and adaptation strategies and as holders of strong body of knowledge and expertise, remains essential for building disaster-resilient communities (G11)(http://www.iitk.ac.in/nicee/wcee/article/14_10-0049.PDF). 

Where We’re Going

The bad news is that in too many countries, women continue to be excluded and marginalized in decision-making and often lack a voice and courage to break through. This situation prevails in controlled societies, and settings of poverty, humiliation, disabilities and status or social and political power (national, local, corporate and community levels). For the water sector in particular, gender-balanced participation (http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/ourwork/environmentandenergy/focus_areas/water_and_ocean_governance/gender-and-water.html) is a critical issue.Access to build skills, resourcefulness and leadership need the sharp attention of policy makers and development leaders for women’s participation in the most disadvantaged locations to become a reality.

The good news -towards that a number of gender equality gaps are being filled.  A number of organizations are making steady progress to promote the effective participation of women at all levels of decision making (private and public) - the Gender and Water Alliance (GWA) (http://genderandwater.org/en/about-the-gender-and-water-alliance); Women for water (http://www.womenforwater.org/), water.org (http://water.org/water-crisis/womens-crisis/); Gander and Agriculture partnership (GAP- merits special mention for moving this agenda forward. Good progress and good news….but still, much remains to be done.

UNU-INWEH (http://inweh.unu.edu/) participated in the development of framework and recommendations with members of the Women for Water Partnership , to promote the work of women – especially in low and middle income countries – to highlight the importance of the gender agenda in water issues. If the global community is to achieve gender equality by 2030, more example and successes that inform and inspire are needed – of women leaders who overcome injustice, experiences of influential women scientists, water bearers
(http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/3/collecting-and-carrying-water-burdensome-reality-for-women) or risk managers in drought/floods (http://www.ssri.hawaii.edu/research/GDWwebsite/pdf/Ariyabandu.pdf) situations.

Recognition is only a first step. A balance in involvement and contribution of women in the development agenda, including leading in water governance and SDG action planning will help link these development indicators to gender action. Sharing stories of struggle and success transforms gender progress from targets to people, and how empowering women enriches culture and belief systems. Initiatives addressing  common concerns that  restricts  women into public citizens and community leaders  who can  providing leadership at various levels is extremely important. As Women for Water Partnership President Mariet Verhoef-Cohen says: ( http://www.womenforwater.org/ ) Men and women should stick together, join hands and ensure gender equality worldwide ' .

Further exposure for women to training, mentoring, sharing of knowledge, and increased representation in high-level forums are important metrics that needs to reach 50-50 parity with men- this clearly applies to the water sector. This process will create a continual shift in attitude toward a partnership-based society (http://sciencenordic.com/gender-equality-gives-men-better-lives).It remains pertinent to recognize the efforts of influential examples that can make this possible and taking a note of that  assumption let’s not forget to thank our very own Trudi Schifter and Vishakha Rajput - who made this interaction possible through the creation of “The Water Network”.

Belated International Women’s Day and Happy World Water Day’

Paula Cecilia Soto Rios and Nidhi Nagabhatla

United Nations University - Institute for Water Environment and Health - The UN Think Tank on Water.