Gender inequity highlights need for reform in water rights
Thousands of bloggers have joined together today to celebrate Blog Action Day, an effort to unite online writers to raise awareness and instigate discussion on global water issues. In my post, I want to focus on how lack of access to sanitation and clean drinking water disproportionately affect women and the necessity of considering gender when devising solutions.
With a ranking of 19th place in the Global Gender Gap Index, the United States trails behind many other industrialized nations in gender equality. However, the water infrastructure and rights system far exceeds that of regions where women and girls must sacrifice time, safety, and education to merely collect water for their families. Each day, millions of females begin their trek before sunrise to gather water of poor quality, lugging 75lb jugs back to their homes across rough terrain and jeopardizing their health in the process. The water they retrieve can lead to waterborne disease transmission, which kills 3.575 million people die each year. And as water scarcity increases and privatization grows, these poor households may have to spend 3%-11% of their income on water alone. Even something as simple as going to the bathroom can be risky for women whose homes lack toilets and must venture to a remote location, risking sexual and physical assault, because of inadequate sanitation infrastructure.
However, solutions exist and are being implemented by countries with the will to change. For example, Uganda passed legislation which requires water user associations to have female representation. In South Africa, the government is also working to dismantle gender discrimination in water rights:
The water regime has significantly changed under the National Water Act of 1998, which has placed all fresh water resources under the trusteeship of the state (sec. 3). While seeking to protect water resources, the Act simultaneously seeks to redress the inequitable access to, and control over, fresh water resources. Indeed, its purposes include promoting “equitable access to water”, redressing the results of past gender discrimination, and ensuring “appropriate” gender representation in the competent institutions (sec. 2). http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4311e/y4311e04.htm
Awareness is key when it comes to rectifying the inequalities in global water rights. By recognizing gender’s impact and taking pro-active steps to ensure women receive equal rights and protection, hopefully reform will achieve justice for the millions of women who remain unheard on this crucial issue.
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