Women in leadership for our waters

Photo: Monica Volpin/Pixabay/CCO
By Aikaterini Tsakanika

Along with the commemoration of the World Water Day and the UNDP campaign of women’s month, the RIO+Centre celebrates today women leading and/or participating in grassroots movements for the protection of the water resources for the future generations; in memory of the Goldman Environmental Prize winner and co-founder of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) Berta Cáceres [1] who was assassinated in 2016 for mobilizing indigenous communities against the Agua Zarca Dam construction for the protection of their sacred Gualcarque River.

Her contribution is equally important for protecting the indigenous people’s rights, and for becoming an international figure of leadership and dedication to the protection of natural heritage, a particularly inspiring legacy for grassroots environmental movements and women not only in indigenous communities, but also in rural and urban low income communities, whose access to clean water is primordial for the well-being of themselves and their dependants.

Women being predominantly the main care-providers within their household and communities are more likely to acknowledge and appreciate the value of a safe water supply system, and, thus, to be incentivized to protect it. The level of access to safe water supply define severely the level of quality of women’s domestic life -in terms of the food production, hygiene, and time dedicated in household tasks including caring of elderly and the children-, and affects accordingly the opportunity for personal development and socialization.

Nevertheless, despite their “vested interests”[2] and their extraordinary resilience to deal with issues relating to health issues, child care, housing – all directly or indirectly related to water supply – having only few resources or information, women’s involvement in water supply management systems is restricted by gender inequality. Gender established power-relations, roles and responsibilities are among the factors that lessen the contribution of women in voluntary associations or partnerships, which can be even further devalued when developmental interventions neglect women in public programs targeting housing or infrastructure facilities including water distribution and sewers[3]. Moreover, gender inequalities prohibit women to defend properly their interests in cases of conflicts on land use that affect both the access and the quality of the water resources. This unequal treatment set concerning signals when privatization of water resources is encouraged, as it is expected to impact women in vulnerable communities.

In this vein, gender equality becomes vital for the improvement of the living conditions of the vulnerable and poor communities part of which is securing the quality and availability of water. UN recognized early on the need for mainstreaming gender into water management, which is evidenced in the forth principle – water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good – of the Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development in 1992. Later, during the International Decade for Action, ‘Water for Life’ (2005-2015) had also emphasized on the involvement of women in civil society for the water and water-related issues which started to grow. The UNDP’s capacity building programme Cap-Net in association with the Gender and Water Alliance published in 2006 guided tutorials for capacity builders and water managers including the  ‘Why Gender Matters: A Tutorial for water managers’  as well as the Resource Guide: Mainstreaming Gender in Water Management aiming to incorporate a human rights based approach to the Integrated Water Management regimes.

Despite all efforts and significant improvements, the gender gap is still significant which implies the need to address the gender inequality in all levels, giving women options and resources, while “tackling the growing water and sanitation crisis” [4]. Even more, it is the time for women to become the protagonists in initiatives and grassroots movements that are joining efforts for the protection of our waters.

[1] http://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/berta-caceres/

[2] http://www.ucl.ac.uk/dpuprojects/drivers_urb_change/urb_society/pdf_gender/UNDP_Beall_gender_matters.p df

[3] http://iknowpolitics.org/sites/default/files/urban_governance-_why_gender_matters.pdf

[4] http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/pdf/WaterforLifeENG.pdf

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