Gender & Water
Water is a public good and the basis of all life on earth. Access to water, in particular safe drinking water and sanitation, is a fundamental human right. There are significant gender differences when it comes to access to water and its usage, largely due to existing power relations, and socially assigned roles and responsibilities. The inclusion of gender aspects for decisions in the water sector is thus essential for sustainable and socially equitable water management. In a European context, gender aspects are particularly relevant to questions of power and participation in decision-making processes.
Care economy / care work
The right to access clean water has been a recognized human right by the United Nations since 2010. However, there is still a lack of implementation, especially in the countries of the Global South. Here, it is primarily women who provide the water supply in the household. This means, among other things, long journeys on foot with heavy loads to fetch the water, which is time-consuming and a burden on health.
Due to climate change, there are signs of a water shortage in Germany as well. What effects this will have on the use of water for household purposes can only be guessed at the moment. It is already being suggested that certain activities, such as washing laundry or dishes, be moved to times of day when water demand is lower. This may have implications for household routines, but perhaps also for the neighborhood if sound and vibration are transmitted in the home. The current draft of the National Water Strategy points out that smart technologies can be used to regulate the shift in timing to nighttime hours. However, this assumes that these are available to all households and that the appropriate equipment is available, which is a cost issue, among other things.
Market driven / labor economy
In the European context, gender dimensions are particularly evident in terms of participation and power relations. It is well established that there is an unequal gender balance in municipal and private water and waste-water companies, where women are clearly underrepresented. Thus, decisions about appropriate technologies and infrastructures are made almost exclusively by men. The reality of life for women and needs that are linked to care work are therefore not adequately taken into account in water management and policy development regarding resource use.
Furthermore, as a result of the EU-wide trend towards privatisation of the water sector , the ability of groups who are already underrepresented to influence and participate in political decsion making is becoming even more limited. In addition, there is concern that the privatisation of the water sector leads to price increases, which is particularly difficult for those with low incomes – including a disproportionate number of women and single parents. It is therefore unsurprising that women and women's organisations around the world have come together to lead the fight against the privatisation of water.
Even in Europe, access to clean drinking water and sanitation is not universal. About 16 million people do not have access to a safe drinking water source and about 31 million people live in households that lack basic sanitation (WHO Regional Office for Europe). "People who are already disadvantaged or discriminated against because of their gender, age, socioeconomic status, ethnic, religious or linguistic identity are less likely than others to have access to water and sanitation" (UNESCO). In addition, the "privatization of water perpetuates gender inequality by building on women's traditional role as crisis managers. Price increases, water scarcity, quality deterioration, and health risks are thus primarily shifted to women" (Bauhardt 2007).
Older research (Lux, Hayn 2008) shows gender differences in the assessment of water quality, water use, and water supply. While everyday needs and use oriented to everyday life are more often formulated by women, men address the same issues more from the perspective of technical supply.
This division into a masculine connotation of the technical supply sphere and the everyday practices attributed to the feminine leads to the fact that users of technical infrastructure systems are perceived by the water industry as customers to be supplied, whose stock of experience and knowledge competes with the supposedly objective professional knowledge (Knothe 2013). A look at the gender aspects regarding the labor economy and shaping power, which are of particular importance in this topic area, suggests whose experiences, perspectives, and evaluations are ascribed the higher relevance here and thus prevail.
Body, health, self-determination and privacy ('intimacy')
The increasing usage of chemicals in industry, agriculture and households also has a negative impact on the quality of water resources. The effects of water pollution and water scarcity impact poor people more severely, since they have fewer rights and more limited financial resources and to respond appropriately. Contaminated water and a lack of sanitation are causes of many (often deadly) diseases and epidemics, to which women and children are more likely to fall victim. Women are often responsible for the paid and unpaid care of those who are sick, which means that an increase in diseases caused by poor supply of drinking water and sanitation places an increasing burden on women around the world.
- Gender and Water Alliance (GWA)
The Gender and Water Alliance (GWA) advocates the equal access of women and men to drinking water and a sustainable, social just water management.
The website water.org deals with questions of water supply in countries of the Global South. It provides graphics and clear explanations on the issue.
- Insecurity and Indignity: Women's experiences in the slums of Nairobi
"More than half the residents of Nairobi live in informal settlements and slums. Their housing is inadequate and they have little access to clean water, health care and other essential public services. Violence against women is widespread where ineffective policing results in rape and other violence against women going largely unpunished."
This report was published by Amnesty International in 2010 and examines the experiences of women living in slums in Nairobi. It calls on the Kenyan government to address gender-based violence against women and to ensure women's access to sanitation and public security services.
The report "Insecurity and Indignity: Women's experiences in the slums of Nairobi" can be downloaded here.
- wH20 - The Journal of Gender and Water
wH20 is an academic online-journal on women and water hosted by the University of Pennsylvania.
- UN World Water Development Report 2014
The annual United Nations World Water Development Report is the UN's flagship report on water. It gives an overall picture of the state of the world's freshwater resources and aims to provide decision-makers with the tools to implement sustainable use of our water.
The focus of the UN World Water Development Report 2014 was "Water and Energy" and contained several references to the nexus of gender equality and access to clean drinking water as well as a call for gender-disaggregated data.
The Report of 2012 with the title "Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risks" made - for the first time ever in a World Water Development Report - a reference to gender perspectives in water management (in chapter 35 "Water & Gender").
- Latest numbers on the supply situation with drinking water and sanitary facilities in Europe
can be accessed on the website of the regional office for Europe of the Wold Health Organization (WHO).
- Women, Rivers and Dams
In March 2011 the magazine of the organization "International Rivers" focused on "Women, Rivers and Dams". One of the subjects was the role of women in social movements fighting for the protection of rivers and against the construction of giant dams. Further, it discussed why healthy, clean rivers are especially important for women and why dams first of all negatively affect women and children.
The issue can be downloaded here.
- Gender-related needs in flood-affected communities in Pakistan
The report "Rapid Gender Needs Assessment of Flood-Affected Communities" by UNIFEM (now UN WOMEN) analyzed data aggregated in the aftermath of the flood catastrophe in Pakistan in 2010.The report chronologically maps gender-related concerns from the onset of floods to current relief camps, identifying gaps in information and flagging issues for upcoming stages of early recovery.The report can be downloaded here.UNIFEM comes to the conclusion that gender concerns need to be fully integrated into relief and recovery operations