Photo: WaterAid / Sam Vox
The connection between women empowerment, gender equality and access to water and sanitation is now well established.
In 1992, the were formulated as a result of the International Conference on Water and the Environment (ICWE). The Principle No. 3 states that “women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water”.
Three years later, the , which aimed at removing all the obstacles to women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life formulated a recommendation for universal access to water and sanitation: “ensure the availability of and universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation and put in place effective public distribution systems as soon as possible”.
This declaration was one of the basics leading up to the human rights to water and sanitation resolutions and is echoed by SDG6. However, since then, we seem to have “reinvented the wheel” and those commitments did not lead to enough tangible action on the ground.
In 2002, I took part to the . With some women’s rights activists who were present there, we tried to articulate the links between ‘sustainable development’ - at the time a very new concept that was not well understood – and our own concerns, needs and resources. We concluded that water ‘spoke’ to all of us. We all have a story about water, whether it’s too much, too little or too polluted. For all women, it is an entry point to empowerment, an enabler. It was the start of Women for Water Partnership, now 16 years old.
Women’s empowerment and “water” are intrinsically linked; implementing SDG5 and 6 together is a necessity.
“Leaving no one behind” is a powerful slogan; enabling those who are marginalised and not heard to act on their own behalf is even more powerful. Among them, are women and girls They spend up to six hours each day collecting water. In Africa and Asia, women and children walk an average of 3.7 miles a day just to collect water.
For women to be able to manage water and sanitation, land rights and thus right to water are crucial and still today a big impediment for access to water for women.
The basic provision of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities including hygiene provision at home and in the workplace, enhances opportunities for women to participate in all aspects of society. Providing female-friendly WASH facilities in schools improves education outcomes and reduces the risks of absenteeism of adolescent girls who can manage their periods with dignity. It is also critical to ensure that places where refugees and migrants are hosted are equipped with WASH facilities, so that in particular women and girls’ rights to privacy, safety and health are protected.
Another important aspect to keep in mind is that approximately 70% of the agriculture work is done by women and 70% of the current water is used by agriculture; which means that women actually manage 50% of our water resources. It is therefore crucial to give women land rights and involve women at all levels in the management and decision-making around water-related issues.
What can the future members of the European Parliament do to combat WASH poverty and contribute to women and girls’ empowerment?
- Ensure that EU policies and programmes in areas such as health, nutrition, food security, environment, education, gender equality and prevention of violence against women comprise a WASH component.
- Apply a gender equality, empowerment and human rights lens to EU WASH policies and programmes. This requires also to encourage decision-makers to collect sex-disaggregated data for policy setting and monitoring.
- Call on national and local authorities, water utilities and other stakeholders to ensure that women are fully involved in decision-making processes around water and sanitation management.
- Promote allocation of funds for vocational training of women in the water sector so that they can be better represented in professions such as plumber or hydrologist.
- Call on the European Commission, the Council and the Member States to apply the EU Consensus on Development and other external policy tools so that they contribute to fully respecting, protecting and promoting the women’s rights to WASH.
And that’s why we are calling on all candidates at the European Parliament elections to #StandUp4Water and pledge their support for ensuring everyone, everywhere has access to their basic human rights of clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene. Find out more about our campaign .
This blog was written by Lesha Witmer, Member of the steering committee and Advocacy Lead at and co-coordinator