Making water carriers water managers – a global problem

Irregular water supply means that women like Bulawayo in Zimbabwe have to fetch water from water points. Studies have shown that water, sanitation and hygiene are a women’s domain, they are not involved in water management. Credit: Ignatius Banda / IPS
  • By Ignatius Banda (Bulawayo, Zimbabwe)
  • Inter Press Service

Despite living in the city, married housewives and mothers of four children have become accustomed to what would be considered essential services in most cities.

“We are used to it now,” he said, referring to the water shortage in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city.

The availability of water in the city has become erratic as there is no clear schedule or timetable to warn residents about when a dry tap can be expected.

Tshuma joins other residents to explore the nearest water point or next home, including a borehole that is considered a middle-class suburb.

“It was kind of an insult to walk around with a bucket, but when you have a small child, you learn humility from a soldier,” Tshuma told IPS.

Although her experience is common in this city of about 2 million people, according to some estimates, it is a small world of global trends where women’s unpaid work involves fetching water, leaving women to make important decisions regarding water access, experts say.

There are concerns among researchers and experts that water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues have been considered the domain of women in developing countries for many years, but this has not been reflected in water resource management.

A report released last month by the Global Water Partnership (GWP), backed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), found that women were left out of global water management despite being the primary household water decision maker.

According to research findings in the report, entitled Advancing Gender Mainstream in Water Resource Management “When women are involved in water resources management, their communities achieve much better results, improved water management and economic and environmental benefits.” The study has been published in 23 countries.

GWP notes that although the role of women in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) was recognized by the United Nations three decades ago, little progress has been made in this area due to male dominance.

Dario Soto-Abril, executive secretary of the Global Water Partnership (GWP), said, “Half of all countries have reported that their water management policies and plans limit or not achieve gender objectives.”

“While some of the reasons for this low number may be the lack of powerful data collection and monitoring tools, we still have this number low enough: it’s time for things to change,” Soto-Abril said.

Since women like Tshuma are struggling to access and be excluded from decisions to bring water into their homes, experts feel that the mainstream system of gender is crucial to ensuring commitment at the highest political level for policy commitment.

Joachim Harlin, head of UNEP’s Freshwater Ecosystems, said: “If there’s any good news, there’s been little improvement in 2017 compared to Baseline.

“The ability to integrate gender considerations into water policy is not exclusively related to the level of development – the political will to change cultural norms is also a question,” Harlin said.

Cultural norms have brought water, not men, to urban municipalities in many developing countries.

“Women have been given the role of water carriers rather than water managers,” the GWP study said.

“In many developing countries, women are the ones who decide on water in the household. Research shows that when women are involved in water resource management, their communities gain better economic and environmental benefits. As the world’s population grows and climate change intensifies water scarcity, women are important in providing more sustainable access to these limited resources.

However, more needs to be done to increase women’s participation in decision-making in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“It’s not just a matter of increasing women’s representation on councils and committees or bringing in a new general legal framework on gender protection, although these steps are important,” Devevek said.

“It’s about integrating gender issues into cross-cutting in all policies, linking water to other relevant policies,” he said.

However, political goodwill is seen as central to ensuring women’s participation in water resources policy-making decisions in line with the Integrated Water Resources Management Assistance Program under Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6), which seeks clean water for all.

“Political will is essential. At the top political level, we need a strong commitment to the mainstream of gender, or we will swim upstream, ”Soto-Abril told IPS.

“Political goodwill makes practical work a success. Some countries need more information, so they need to do a gender analysis. Others need to implement financially gender-sensitive practices and introduce accountability processes, ”he said.

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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal Source: Inter Press Service

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