Women for Water Partnership at CSW63
Vocational training of women and girls:
an excellent investment
The 63rd session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) took place in New York from 11-22 March. Women for Water Partnership, in close coordination with our members Soroptimist International and BPW International, as always was present to, throughout the event, highlight the crucial role of women and girls in reaching safe access to clean water and sanitation for all. We co-organized two sessions ourselves: "Vocational training of women: an excellent investment", on the first day of CSW, and; "Advancing Women’s Legal Rights to Water", on March 19th. WfWP President Mariet Verhoef-Cohen moreover ensured our messages were heard well during the Interactive expert panel on "Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development", addressing good practices in the data (collection) challenge – and opportunity.
Access to sustainable water-related services and infrastructure matters. Dysfunction, whether due to inadequate maintenance, weak management, limited structural funding or a shortfall in skilled and technical labour, exacerbates the cycle of poverty, gender inequality and risks the attainment of the targets set out in the UN sustainable development goals.
Due to gendered socioeconomic roles, women remain disproportionately affected by water scarcity, and poor management of resources, and yet they are often excluded from decision-making.
"Vocational training of women: an excellent investment" explores the critical role women hold in responding to ongoing skills shortages, and in the planning and delivery of sustainable water resource management; underlining the power of investment in the vocational training of women and girls.
Read the full report on this event here
More on CSW63:
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Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls: Read the CSW63 Agreed conclusions
Watch this inspiring story presented on the vocational training of women event.
Produced by Daniela Sala for ILO
I am delighted to introduce the topic ‘vocational training’, which fits perfectly in the priority theme of CSW63: access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
For many years now, we have seen that many investments in water- and/or sanitation-related infrastructure end up being dysfunctional after a short time. Why?
One of the reasons is poor maintenance due to a lack of adequate funding. Another main reason is the lack of capacity to maintain a wide range of equipment, such as water taps, boreholes, pipes, rainwater harvesting tanks, toilets, water basins etc.
And that is where vocational training comes in. Often there are not sufficient numbers of trained plumbers, masons or other technicians available to do the maintenance, especially in the villages. Traditionally, the jobs to maintain water infrastructure are considered men’s work. With men leaving their villages to search for job opportunities in cities, women are left behind and have to find solutions.
To complicate matters, women and girls are not ‘targeted’ if vocational training centers are recruiting pupils. So, girls and especially older women will not be educated to fill the gap.
Moreover, these training courses are often not adapted to the other responsibilities’ women carry, for instance school times, nor do they offer tailor-made curricula or the opportunity to build women’s competences. We have to overcome this: more girls and women should get involved in vocational training aimed at the maintenance of water infrastructure to safeguard the precious investments made.
Members of Women for Water Partnership and Soroptimist International are aware of this and we have some excellent examples of projects in which women are being trained as masons or plumbers.
During this session Elisabeth Nyadwe, SIE Vice President Advocacy, will speak about the Mwhihoko women in Kenya who followed a transformative programme in modern farming techniques and irrigation to achieve better food security.
Another WfWP member Katosi implemented a water and sanitation project with fishing communities in Uganda to ensure that proper management and maintenance of the infrastructure are built. The community learned skills to either manage or maintain the constructions. Women were trained in masonry to construct and take care of the domestic rainwater harvesting tanks. The skilled masons are able to repair the facilities as well as reduce the construction costs. Skilled women masons were able to teach other groups, thus creating more capacity to build more water facilities in their area. And last but not least, the status of women masons has been elevated, and the gained income has removed them from dependency.
Today, you will hear really great examples showing that vocational training of women is a wise investment.
The human resources required to achieve SDG 6, that is the SDG aimed at clean water and safe sanitation for all, is another reason why investment in vocational training is so crucial. The SDG 6 synthesis report - published in 2018 - states that there are serious human resource shortages in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes.
Operating and maintaining sanitation and water systems require a diverse range of people with a variety of training, experience and skills, such as engineers, laboratory technicians, masons, plumbers and hygienists. With the current and projected human resources available we would not be able to deliver and achieve SDG 6. Moreover, a lack of qualified professionals and technicians weakens the institutions that provide governance. All dreadful conclusions, wouldn’t you say?
According to a 2012 WHO/GLAAS report, countries report insufficient staff to operate and maintain urban and rural drinking-water systems. Only 27 countries (out of 67 respondents) report sufficient staff at an urban level, and only 11 countries report sufficient staff at a rural level.
The situation is particularly dramatic in some areas of Africa, where highly qualified technical personnel are in short supply to fulfill essential functions.
The lack of skills is particularly acute in technical and vocational workers at utility level. GLAAS reported that out of 73 countries, less than 20% consider the supply of skilled labour and technicians adequately developed to meet the needs; 68% of respondents pinpointed the underdevelopment of workers and technicians as a major issue.
This is true for both developing and developed countries, which are experiencing loss of technical talent as baby boomers are retiring.
Something needs to be done urgently to address this situation, and here again vocational training comes in. Education and training provide a vital basis for building the much-needed human capacity in the water sector. The expertise required in the water sector at all levels of education, in numerous agencies, communities, schools and private companies, is extremely broad.
A golden opportunity for women and girls to close this gap and acquire ‘non-traditional’ skills.
This is easier said than done. First of all, it is not easy to get funding for vocational training in the water sector: vocational training is less tangible and nearly invisible compared to infrastructure. In addition, we need to create conditions so that women are stimulated and encouraged to start non-traditional skills training and education.
It is important to understand women’s different motivations and incentives for joining a vocational training programme. For example, in Peru we learned that young women 18 to 22 who were not yet mothers were interested in finding a short-term job that would allow them to save money to eventually pursue higher education. And young women who were already mothers or were older than 22 sought a job with flexible hours that would help them support their families. These are issues to reckon with when encouraging women and girls to join or design a programme.
Secondly, a significant constraint for women can be the lack of support from spouses or family, whether financially, emotionally, or practically. Sometimes this is the reason why women ultimately do not enroll in programmes or drop out prematurely. These decisions are often based on the perception that these rather technical jobs are seen for men only and that such a job would take women away from their household work.
To mitigate this lack of support, it is important to invite family members to orientation sessions and to share more information about the programme. This will help ease anxieties and raise awareness about the economic gains of working in that specific sector.
Furthermore, success stories of other women might help to convince the women and girls to take such a step. Role models influence women’s career aspirations and attitudes towards jobs and help fight persistent stereotypes. Fostering support networks can work to overcome challenges as well.
All in all it means that girls and women do not automatically start vocational training for non-traditional jobs once the opportunity is there. Additional efforts need to be made to get them on board and keep them on board. However, it is absolutely worthwhile to invest in vocational training for women and girls to acquire the much-needed human capacity to achieve access to water and sanitation for all.
Therefore once again: Vocational training of women and girls is a truly worthwhile investment – for all parties concerned!
Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, Women for Water Partnership President