Author : Sara López Garcia
Site of publication : gender.net
Type of publication : Topic review
Date of publication : October 2019
Water : the way to equity
Due to its social significance, water is unquestionably intertwined with social dynamics, including gender roles.
Gender roles shape the use and collection of water, which are traditionally associated with women in the private, domestic sphere, and the governance of water resources, which are associated with men in the public, monetary sphere.
Women and children are disproportionately affected by water scarcity and the change of water predictabilty due to climate change. They are also overly impacted by the lack of adequate water and hygiene infrastructures.
Gender and water management
Water management involves the “doing” aspect of water, including water collection or use for household matters such as cleaning or cooking but also construction of infrastructure. Women are overrepresented in the areas of management with the lowest social recognition.
In 80% of the households where water is not available on premises, it is women and girls who are responsible for water collection. Furthermore, when a woman or girl is collecting water, she is using valuable time and energy that she could be investing in going to school or pursuing an economically profitable activity, hindering her independence, empowerment and self-esteem.
Gender roles shape the use and collection of water, which are traditionally associated with women in the private, domestic sphere, and the governance of water resources, which are associated with men in the public, monetary sphere
Climate change aggravates the water scarcity and exacerbates the social impact of droughts, increasing the time and effort needed for water gathering, which has a higher toll on women and girls all over the world.
Gender and water governance
Women are scarcely represented in higher levels of the governance of water and hence have less power and control of water resources. For example, around the world, ministries of water are the least common ministry to have a gender focal point.
This leaves women in a vulnerable position in accessing water and diminishes their claim over its governance. Furthermore, privatization affects women disproportionally. This is because privatization yields an increase of prices that affect the most underprivileged individuals, where women are a majority.
Including women in water governance roles is essential to allow an equitable and inclusive approach to hydrological resources.
Gender and water governance is not only an equity matter: it is a peace matter. Transboundary water governance is a pressing issue when 40% of the world’s population lives in one of the 310 transboundary river basins that span over more than 150 countries.
Women have been found to be more prone to cooperate to solve conflicts, and involving women in transboundary water conversations results in policies that place families and other women in the centre.
Gender and sanitation
Currently in the world 2 billion people lack safely managed drinking water and 4.5 billion lack safely managed sanitation. A lack of access to WASH affects women and girls disproportionally, due both to biological and cultural factors.
From a biological perspective, Increased maternal mortality is connected to infectious diseases associated with lack of hygiene. However, the underlying poverty connected to these situations is far from being biological.
Traditional gender roles play an essential part in unequal WASH access. At least 500 million women and girls globally lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management (MHM). Women and girls may not have a suitable space to manage their menstruation in their working environment, especially if they are labouring in the informal sector, causing absenteeism.
Women have been found to be more prone to cooperate to solve conflicts, and involving women in transboundary water conversations results in policies that place families and other women in the centre
Poverty is an underlying determinant of the vast majority of women and girls that bare the unequal burden of the water and climate change effects. This is exacerbated by ethnicity, disability or gender minority aspects.
Gendered solutions: what can be done ?
An equal representation of women and girls in water management and governance processes is essential for them to raise their needs and to bring in their strengths, experience and knowledge.
Gender perspective should be included in plans, policies and programmes not just as “add-ons” but at as a genuine value addition that allows more inclusive and equal structures.
When looking at governance and power roles, equality in land and financial tenure for women in all countries should be stressed as major underlying sources of inequity.
When planning WASH, gender needs should be taken into consideration: facilities should allow privacy and be inclusive of all genders. However, sexual violence related to open defecation cannot only be addressed by providing safe toilets, but also by addressing the underlying rape culture, which implies challenging patriarchal practices and unequal gender roles.
Furthermore, it is very important to include boys and men in the conversation: deconstructing menstrual taboos requires age-appropriate education of all genders.
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