Women and the water crisis

By Efrosini Costa

Women and the water crisis
Women are at the front lines of the global water crisis, carrying the burden of water every day.

Water is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about women’s rights. But, globally, women and girls spend an estimated 200 million hours each day collecting this life necessity. We speak to Dr Kanyoro, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, about the global water crisis and find out why it is at the forefront of the women’s rights struggle across the world.

How is access to water becoming one of the most critical issues across the globe today? Why is it a women’s issue?

Issues of “access” to anything at all define the haves and the have nots and they often also define who will live and who will not. Today as we talk about millions of children are dying on the African continent because of lack of clean water. By 2025, 66 per cent of the world’s population will be impacted by limited or no access to water.

Australia has also just emerged from a decade of drought that must have its consequences; whether it translates into more fires that destroy peoples’ lives or the loss of livestock, the experience shows just how water manages our lives.

In the US, where I currently live, the drought that ravaged the Midwest was one of the most under-reported stories, because it is one of the biggest producers of corn and soybeans for export in the world, and a drought has worldwide consequences.

Millions of people, including millions of women, earn their livelihoods from the land. Without water, one has fewer products to sell, less income means, and you have less to pay your expenses – to put back in your business, buy food to feed your family, and pay for school. Water is a woman’s issue, with 60 per cent of the 1.2 billion people in the world without access to clean water are women.

How is the issue being tackled by women? What roles do they play in finding a solution to this water crisis?

In many parts of the world, women are the ones who must collect the water for drinking, cooking and cleaning. Women are the first to know when water sources become polluted, and the first to experience the impact of deforestation as they are forced to walk further afield in search of wood. They are the ones who struggle up mountain sides that are washed away in annual floods because they no longer have vegetation. This means they are the first to be impacted by lack of water.

Places with no access to water are also the same places where people are extremely poor. Lack of water is often the best indicator of absolute poverty. Lack of water means that for many, you bury your children young, and you worry everyday about where the next meal will come from. If a child is sick, there is no doctor because educated people move to where there is life and water is life. Even if there are medicines, taking them to a place with no water or dirty water does not bring healing.

What technology and skills are women utilising to achieve their goals and challenge oppression? 

If women don’t have access to water or technology, you can’t have a meaningful discussion of liberation. It reminds me of the 1970s when African feminists were debating the development people who came to help us. They would tell us, ‘How could you be concerned about women’s rights when African women can’t even put food on the table?” To which we replied, “Yes we need food. But we also need dignity.”

The same kind of dichotomy exists today with regards to women, water and technology. It is true for example, that if women have low technology like a water pump, their lives will be better – to a point. I say ‘to a point’ because if she has the tools and the knowledge to build the pump herself, if she is empowered knowing that she can actually do things that she once considered only to be in men’s domains, if she can work with other sisters to advocate for more control over water and land rights – then we will see transformational change. And that is what the Global Fund supports: organisations that use a rights based approach.

How is the Global Fund for Women helping women around the world?

At the Global Fund for Women, it has always been crystal clear that advancing women’s rights – increasing their access to technology, education, political participation, and economic empowerment, not only enables women to be a powerful force for change, but is one of the most effective ways to realise a more sustainable future.

We invest time, expertise and money in local, courageous women and women-led organisations to advance the rights of women and girls; connect women to women’s rights funding, influencers and potential partners. So advocate for the issues impacting women and girls and use our voice, platform, networks and influence to lift the voices of local women and girls.

Dr Musimbi Kanyoro will visit Australia this month to speak at Women, Water and Technology: Stories and Solutions. The free public lecture is jointly presented by The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre and Global Fund for Women and supported by UN Women Australia Adelaide Chapter. Click here to find out more about the event. 

The Global Fund for Women celebrates its 25th anniversary this year; find out more about the organisation at: www.globalfundforwomen.org


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