The Future that Women Want: No Time to Waste A Vision of Sustainable Development for All (2-3)
Rio+20 provides an opportunity for leaders to strengthen the foundation laid 20 years ago at the 1992 Earth Summit to build a path towards a sustainable future. Twenty years ago, UN Member States unanimously agreed that “women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development”. UN Women presented a report to the 2012 Summit highlighting the priorities needed for the empowerment and participation of women in sustainable development.
Sustainable development and the transformative power of women
Women’s initiatives at the local level
Organizations such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association, HomeNet, StreetNet and the Uruguayan Association of Rural Women are widely cited success stories of social transformation
through collective organizing by poor women in the informal sector. In Peru, a woman-led organization, Grupo Ciudad Saludable, has organized informal and unprotected waste scavengers—a majority of whom are women—to collect, recycle and dispose of waste for a population of 4 million people in both poor urban and rural communities. Replication of this initiative has now begun in Mexico and Venezuela. Similarly, women farmer groups in Malawi led the shift away from conventional ‘row’ planting of single crops to ‘pothole’ planting with mixed crop placement as a result of their observations of positive harvest yields from moisture retention and provision of shade from taller maize crops for lower growing vegetables, the household and the community (e.g. as primary users of household energy, water and land for household food security). For example, through their daily responsibilities for water management, women and girls know the location, reliability and quality of local water resources. The exclusion of women from the planning of water supply and sanitation schemes has been identified as a major cause of their high rate of failure.
Evidence from India and Nepal suggests that women’s involvement in decision-making at the community level is associated with better local environmental management.
Women’s effective engagement in policy development and in concrete actions at the local level to achieve sustainable development has led to hard-won gains in terms of women’s social, political and economic rights.
Any future development framework must translate the many commitments on gender equality into concrete measures to ensure women’s full participation, equal opportunities and people-centred development.
The examples presented here share innovative strategies, experiences and programmes by organizations and countries that champion the goals of sustainable, people-centred and gender-responsive development. At the same time, reviewing successes and failures highlights familiar issues that have for years affected all spheres of women’s lives.
From the basic necessities of food and water to the more complex and long-term development objectives of attaining universal remain challenged by a set of factors that the development community has long recognized but made insufficient progress to address.
Safe Water and Sanitation Importance to sustainable development
Water is a basic necessity for sustaining life, from drinking and preparing food to bathing, washing, irrigating crops and watering livestock.
Lack of access poses innumerable challenges, from the economic burden of having to pay for water or spending more time fetching it to considerable health hazards. Still, nearly 1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water, and 2.6 billion lack access to improved sanitation services. As a result, some 1.4 million children under five die every year.
In many societies, water plays an increasingly important economic role, particularly as one of the major sources of green energy.
Waterways have also historically been integral to many countries’ transportation systems.
Consequently, water scarcity and quality—as a consequence of climate change, pollution or other factors—pose both economic and environmental sustainability concerns.
Watchdog organizations warn that current agricultural, manufacturing and waste management practices are not sustainable; China and India are already experiencing significant water-related economic difficulties, and some experts predict that more than half of the world will face water shortages by the middle of the 21st century.
Though equal access to safe drinking water is widely accepted as a human right essential for full enjoyment of life, lack of access has a decidedly gender-specific impact: in most communities, fetching water is the responsibility of women and children.
In addition, water is central to the full range of domestic activities, which many cultures still view traditionally as ‘women’s domain’: food preparation, care of animals, crop irrigation, personal hygiene of the entire household, care of the sick, cleaning, washing and waste disposal. Women worldwide spend more than 200 million hours per day collecting water and have developed considerable knowledge about water resources, including their location, quality and storage methods.
Privatization of common water sources, reduction of previously provided government services and market-based water allocation mechanisms are increasingly challenging poor women and men around the world. If current trends of giving priority to industrial, agricultural and power production persist, the possibility of water becoming unaffordable for the poor becomes increasingly real.
Current lack of access by the poor can result not only from economic pressures but also from multiple socio-political and environmental factors, such as armed conflict or drought.
Women and girls are walking further to find water, often risking violence in politically or environmentally volatile areas. The rising
amounts of time consumed by procuring water limits women and girls’ opportunities to engage in other activities—such as going to school or earning an income—and often limits time devoted to childcare and other household health and wellness-oriented activities.
Though images of women carrying water are ubiquitous, few understand the true social and economic impact of this monumental task. One 2012 estimate suggests that cutting just 15 minutes off the walking time to a water source could reduce under-five child mortality by 11 per cent and a prevalence of nutrition depleting diarrhoea by 41 per cent. In Ghana, a 15-minute reduction in water collection time increased girls’ school attendance by 8 to 12 per cent. A Bangladesh school sanitation project that provided separate facilities for boys and girls boosted girls’ school attendance by an annual average of 11 per cent during
the decade ending in 2000.
Similar to other areas of the formal economy, women are underrepresented in the water sector’s workforce. A study in South Asia attributes this disparity as much to women’s broader challenges of participating in the labour market (e.g. lack of access to child care or work-schedule flexibility) as to their educational
opportunities, which do not necessarily favour the scientific and mathematical skills currently demanded in the water sector.
Many development-oriented water projects fail due to insufficient consultations with end users, including women, on their needs, and insufficient attention to building local communities’ capacity to construct, maintain and repair top-down water systems.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 30/07/2012