Gender impact of water resource management

Gender impact of water resource management

Growing up in a rural mountainous area of Pakistan, I spent a great amount of my childhood collecting water from open sources for household and drinking purposes. We won´t hesitate drinking from open streams based on an old saying, “flowing water has self-cleaning property”. While water-borne diseases were prevalent, included diarrhea among children. During the winters, the harsh weather conditions and frozen water sources added to the challenge. The few available water pipes and taps would burst. To access water, we would break ice to retrieve water from streams. The lost study time, risky frozen conditions and health burden associated with water was greatly reduced by a sustainable and risk resilient technical intervention under a public-private partnership program called Water and Sanitation Extension Programme (WASEP)[1].  The program improved the life quality of local populations in various manners. It reduced exposure to contaminated open water sources by providing water infrastructure fit to the weather conditions. Even today risky situations prevail in major parts of rural areas in Pakistan and elsewhere. In many areas, collecting water expose women and children to social risks.

Girl accessing water at doorstep after implementation of WASEP (Photo: AKDN).

Water crisis has been declared as one of the greatest global risks. Access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a basic human right. Clean freshwater is essential for a healthy life while figures show that 1.1 billion people have limited access to freshwater resources and water scarcity impacts over 2.7 billion annually. With increasing population and climate change impacts, the water scarcity is predicted to impact over two-third of world´´s population by 2025[2]. Furthermore, inadequate water supply and sanitation facilities are reported to cost USD 260 billion worldwide annually[3]. It is estimated that women and girls spend 200 million hours every day collecting water. The UNICEF called it a colossal waste of their valuable time. Access to clean drinking water makes a difference in the lives of people[4]. The situation calls for more actions needed in making clean water and sanitation facilities accessible to all.

The third principle on water in the Dublin Statement states that, “women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water [5].” Water management practices in rural and urban settings differ in many ways while poor water supply and quality has a stronger gender impact. In a rural setting, women and girls are responsible for gathering water for domestic purposes. Poor water management practices directly impact women and girls. Moreover, poor sanitation practices compromise the dignity and personal safety of women and girls. The health, education and economic well-being of girls and women are also negatively impacted. Studies have found that significant inequalities in water, sanitation and hygiene have higher health implications on women and girls, indicating an intersection of water-health nexus with gender[6]. Although women remain the main provider of water resources in households in major parts of the world, their participation in decision making and water resource management are rare. More actions are needed to achieve gender equality in water and sanitation. Gender-sensitive approaches will improve the sustainability of water and sanitation services[7]. Furthermore, it will aid in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDG 3, 5 & 6).

Likewise, in urban centers of developing countries, women and girls are primarily responsible for collecting, managing, and using water at households for domestic chores. These countries have fragile institutions and water infrastructure along with dense population leading to economic constraints. The women and girls in urban centers are equally exposed to the health burden and economic impacts of poor safe water availability as in rural areas. Involvement of women in the water management processes have been found to enhance the process by many folds. A review conducted in 2017 by Deloitte[8] identified few areas for women involvement in water resource management. The needs and preferences of women as primary customers make women involvement in design, operation, and maintenance of water systems valuable. Furthermore, women participation in water utilities, distribution and policy making would require filling the human resource gaps by increasing the number of women in the talent pipeline.

[1] https://the.akdn/en/resources-media/whats-new/press-release/safe-drinking-water-and-sanitation-project-improves-lives-over-200000-people-gilgit

[2] https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity

[3] https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2015/6/un-women-stresses-role-of-women-in-water-management-at-the-water-for-life-conference

[4] https://www.unicef.org/turkiye/en/node/2156

[5] https://www.gwp.org/contentassets/05190d0c938f47d1b254d6606ec6bb04/dublin-rio-principles.pdf

[6] Pouramin, P., Nagabhatla, N. and Miletto, M., 2020. A systematic review of water and gender interlinkages: Assessing the intersection with health. Frontiers in Water2, p.6.

[7] https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-and-gender

[8] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/3267_Thirsty-for-change/DR20_Thirsty%20for%20change2_reprint.pdf

Shabila Perveen