The Future that Women Want: No Time to Waste A Vision of Sustainable Development for All (3-3)
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.
The way forward
Ensuring equitable provision of reliable, clean water and sanitation services requires participatory water governance, where women’s equal voices influence and inform policymaking, decision-making and management of water and sanitation facilities. Given that 80 per cent of all illnesses are transmitted by contaminated water, this area requires broad-based and coordinated action by members of the global health and development communities in close partnership with local governments and other stakeholders.
Beyond addressing the socially and physically different needs of women and girls—such as their need for more private sanitation facilities than men and boys or increased susceptibility to specific hygienic threats while pregnant—action is also needed to mitigate their socioeconomic burdens. Efforts to improve water services need to focus on the quality of water supply and distances to its sources.
In most developing countries, such efforts need to go hand-in-hand with reform that bans discrimination against women and girls in their access to and ownership of land. Equally essential are appropriate technology, financial management and capacity-building programmes, such as those on hygiene or the operation and maintenance of water and sanitation facilities.
Protest vs. reform: Bolivia and South Africa take different paths to water equity
After the privatization of municipal drinking water resulted in immediate and exorbitant price increases, women and men of the Bolivian city of Cochabamba joined together to demand that control be returned to public hands. Residents formed the Defence of Water and Life Coalition that united local organizations, environmental groups, women’s groups and leaders, lawyers, labour unions, economists and neighbourhood associations in a collaborative struggle to maintain control of water management. The protest of 2000 was largely economically induced, as new water fees threatened to claim as much as a third of a typical income among the urban poor.
Though the privatization process was ultimately reversed, the Cochabamba incident cannot be viewed solely as a victory. The economic costs of the uprising were significant; the city shut down for several days as citizens took to the streets. A protest intended as peaceful actually resulted in violence and injury. Water returned to being cheaper, but it did not become more available; shortages were making news headlines in 2008. Today, the country still has considerable water supply and sanitation issues, suggesting that community action must be supported by deeper systemic change for the outcomes to be sustainable in the long term.
South Africa, for example, provides a sound legislative foundation for implementing policies to secure women’s access to water, in the form of the national Constitution, the 1997 Water Service
Act and the 1998 National Water Act. The 2002 Free Basic Water Implementation Strategy sets out the framework for the provision of 6,000 litres of free, safe water per household per month, with additional allowances where there are sanitation issues.
Another key initiative is the South African Water Dialogues, born out of the international Water Dialogues initiative in countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines and Uganda. This collaborative dialogue platform on water privatization provides a forum to discuss different approaches and models of water service delivery. The South African Water Dialogues is a multi-sectoral group of government representatives—spanning the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, the National Treasury, the City of Johannesburg, the Johannesburg Water Management, the Local Government Association—and other public and private-sector actors, such as the Coalition Against Water Privatization, the Environmental Monitoring Group, the Association of Water Utilities, the Municipal Workers Union, the South African Water Caucus, the Water Information Network, and Mvula Trust (the country’s leading water and sanitation non-governmental organization). The group undertakes research and disseminates lessons learned in promoting the most effective safe water service delivery model. It therefore has the potential to address gender issues in relation to water if it works closely with gender equality
advocates and women’s networks.
Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture Importance to sustainable development
Food security is closely linked to issues of health, economic development, trade, poverty, equity and the environment. Agriculture is the largest employment sector in most developing countries. Some 2.6 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, a vast majority of them living on small farms in rural areas on less than $1 per day. Worse yet, some 925 million people go hungry every day, and there is no consensus on whether the problem lies with insufficient production or distribution challenges.
Concerns over natural resources and sustainable agricultural practices are central to this sector. Global achievements in production are often associated with degradation of land and water resources and deterioration of ecosystem goods, from biomass to productive soil and water resources. The application of green farming practices at small farms mitigates some of such concerns and increases yields by between 54 and 179 per cent; however, the majority of small-scale producers, particularly in developing countries where food and agriculture concerns are exacerbated by socioeconomic inequalities, remain at a disadvantage in a market of increased competition over land and water and general lack of access to resources and opportunities.
In addition, financial resources—both national budgets and official development assistance— allocated to water and land management
have recently been on a downward trend.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 01/08/2012