It’s simple, but requires determination

21Mar 2019
Correspondent
The Guardian
It’s simple, but requires determination

I am drafting this on International Women’s Day – March 8 – with an eye towards World Water Day on March 22. On International Women’s Day we celebrate progress in gender equality. At the same time, we recognize how much remains to be done: how many women remain excluded from decision-making-

Piped water has made life easier for this boy, who no longer has to help his parents fetch water from afar. Credit: Vannaphone Sitthirath/IPS

across many professions. Changing this is urgent. Water – clean and accessible – is getting scarcer at an alarming rate. While working to change this, we cannot afford to exclude women. 

The water community has made political statements on gender equality, going back to 1992 when the Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development included Principle #3, affirming that “Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water.” Was this merely lip service? A developing world woman carry a jug of water on her head remains a stubborn image of women and water. To be sure, this image points to a daily tragedy: the fact that hundreds of millions of people do not have a convenient source of water, and that women and girls spend hours each day collecting water, losing productive time and opportunities, and living in fear for their safety. Like others, Global Water Partnership (GWP) commends the people and organisations that provide infrastructure to bring clean water nearer to communities.

 

Working to ensure access to safe water and sanitation is a challenge that goes beyond infrastructure. Water needs to be managed. And only inclusive water management, as GWP’s Gender Action Piece points out, has the potential to reduce inequalities, uphold human rights, and improve sustainability. “If segments of the population are excluded, projects are likely to fail. Why? Without considering the diverse needs and practices of a community, it is unlikely that results will be sustainable, and deliver the human development and economic outcomes intended.”

It’s kind of simple, but not often applied: “Nothing about them without them” as we say in the Gender Action Piece. Easy to remember.

The principle applies to all water management. Getting our water resources back in shape is a huge task – rivers and aquifers need attention so they can provide the water we need to grow the crops that will feed our growing population, the water we need for growing cities, the water we need for growing industries. We cannot afford to exclude anyone who uses water or who has a solution: the poor, youth, indigenous peoples – any minority may hold a key to the future of water.

Today’s World Water Day theme is “Leaving no one behind,” a theme designated by our close partners at UN-Water. Today, says UN-Water, “billions of people are still living without safe water – their households, schools, workplaces, farms and factories struggling to survive and thrive. Marginalized groups – women, children, refugees, indigenous peoples, disabled people and many others – are often overlooked, and sometimes face discrimination, as they try to access and manage the safe water they need.”

“Leaving no one behind” is the central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. That agenda includes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one of which – Number 6 – is about water. Part of that goal zeros in on work that has been piloted by GWP and its thousands of member organizations: integrating water resources management across all people and organizations that have a stake in water. The genius of this approach is that it has always been about inclusion.

So how does one practice “integrated” water resources management? Again, kind of simple: to achieve efficient, equitable, and sustainable water management, all stakeholders must have genuine opportunities to actively participate in water management decisions. Only then can decisions be taken that reflect how we all value water – reflecting its social value, its economic value, and its environmental value. In fact, it is interesting to watch how decisions change once we grasp the true value of water – which happens when those sitting at the table represent the full, rich, spectrum of society. GWP sees this whenever our Country Water Partnerships convene stakeholders to debate such decisions.

GWP was recently evaluated for how we do our work. I was glad to see that the evaluation found our network to be of “unique breadth and depth” – providing us, the evaluators said, with singular “legitimacy and reputation.” How? By working as a ‘neutral’ convener of stakeholders, as a convener who speaks “nothing about them without them.”

There are only 12 years to go when all the SDGs should be achieved by 2030. That’s a huge challenge, requiring a massive transformation to the way we run our planet. There are many unsung heroes and heroines whose hard work, grit, and determination create a safe space for people to come together to build common ground for water management decisions, working with everyone, everywhere. Want to join us at the table?

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