Ensuring women participation and empowerment for Water and Development
Under the main theme ‘Women and Girls at the Forefront of Sustainable Development: protect, empower, invest’, the European Development Days 2018 (5-6 June, Brussels) were framed by three major themes emerging as key priorities in today’s current context: 'Ensuring the physical and psychological integrity of Girls and Women', 'Promoting economic and social rights and empowerment of Girls and Women', 'Strengthening Girls’ and Women’s voice and participation'. Women for Water Partnership co-organized on the 2nd day of the EDD a brainstorming lab on "ensuring women participation and empowerment for water and development", facilitated by WfWP Steering Committee member Lesha Witmer, with WfWP Executive Director Annemiek Jenniskens one of the main contributors.
The key objective of the brainstorming lab session was to look for stimulating ideas, getting experiences and gathering recommendations on how to concretely ensure the women participation/consideration at each step of a water project. Resulting in enhancing and completing the Water Project ToolKit of the European Commission with updated, practical recommendations to mainstream women voices, and role(s) within the focal areas tackled specifically in the Water Project toolkit: basics and municipal services, water resources management, agriculture, energy (hydropower) and water sector performance. A packed room after short pitches of the key contributors buzzed into lively discussions. Key recommendations include:
Do not assume what women think. Ask the right questions and keep asking them. (Neil Doth, AquaFed)
790.000 professionals are needed in the water sector. Open up to women! (Irene Wintermayor, ILO)
The European Commission (DG JRC in close collaboration with DG DEVCO) published in 2011 the EU Water Project toolkit that provides step-to-step guidance at each stage of a development/ cooperation project in the water sector. Actually, as implementing a Water project implies to mainstream other dimensions, the Toolkit also tacked the link with agriculture (water supply, irrigation) or energy (hydropower) but also cross-cutting issues such as Gender. In fact, women/girls are key actors in managing the water and food supply and so, the health of their family and wider, of their community (and region). It is demonstrated that women’s involvement and the consideration of their specific needs/constraints and priorities in water projects lead to better results and impacts on the management of natural resources and living conditions.
Despite their practical responsibilities and experience, their meaningful involvement as actors and decision-makers is still not enough incorporated in the water sector and associated sectors like the agriculture or energy (cooking /irrigation). They are often under-represented in related decision-making bodies, such as water user/irrigation associations (WUAs) (IFAD, 2012[i]), despite the fact that women produce 60 percent to 80 percent of the food in developing countries (GWP-TEC- policy 3[ii]) and are mainly in charge of fetching water, at 90% in Africa (UN WATER[iii]).
Agenda 2030 and the SDGs give unique guidance both on women’s empowerment (SDG5) and the importance of “ water” (SDG6) and the connection between the two; recent reports inter alia of/ by HLP on Water[iv] , UN Water (synthesis report[v], UN Women and GWP (Action Piece[vi]) all make the connection and suggest venues for action. The UN Water report[vii] explicitly mentions the connection between SDG targets and gender inequality [SDG 5.1, 5.2, 5.4, 5.5] and other inequality [10.1–10.3]. The reports signal: as countries roll out their national implementation strategies, it is paramount that investments in these and other strategic areas are prioritized (UN Women). Addressing both SDG 6 and 5 requires a strong emphasis on strategic gender interests and redressing existing inequalities in power and status, not just addressing practical needs (HLPW). The definition of the dedicated goal in the SDGs – SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, highlights this imperative. Mainstreaming gender includes enabling Women/girls to have the leverages in their hands to facilitate their tasks and improve their living conditions for themselves and their family/community. Doing so this allows to push forward the general development and the related SDGs (SDG 6 for water, SDG2 for Hunger…). More than ever, addressing the not negligible synergies and trade-offs between the water sector and the food and energy securities require enhanced and effective integration / cooperation between those sectors, considering gender equality as a key driver as well as trigger element. This brainstorming session is also an opportunity to get additional input on gender within this conceptual frame.
[i] IFAD Report: Gender and water Securing water for improved rural livelihoods: The multiple-uses system approach
[ii] GWP-TEC Policy Brief 3: Gender mainstreaming: an essential component of sustainable water management, page 2
[iii] UN WATER: Water and GENDER:
[iv] “ What success looks like” graphic on page 4
[v] SDG6 Synthesis Report 2018 page 16-17
[vi] GWP, Gender Action
[vii] Water and Sanitation: Interlinkages