“In Africa, the water issue belongs to women: they go to get water and bring it back in a bucket.” — Courtès Ketcha, from Cameroon
There is a hole in the bucket was the slogan of two women focused events at the recent sixth World Water Forum which was held in France from 12 to 17 March 2012.
Attended by more than 20 000 people from about 170 countries, the Forum is held once every three years.
The next one is scheduled for 2015 in South Korea. It’s an agreed fact that limited access to fresh water affects a woman more than any other member of the family.
The Women for Water Partnership (www.womenforwater.org), a global network of 24 organisations, led the two events which focused on women and water.
The first, titled Women Leadership in Water and Sanitation was a pre-conference held two days before the Forum which allowed in depth discussion of specific issues affecting women and girls.
It focused on three areas ie women’s role in water and food security, community water management and water, peace and security from a woman’s perspective.
These areas in turn explored topics such as Menstrual health management and sanitary dignity for women and girls in South Africa, something which can do with more attention in many African countries.
The results of the pre-conference were then presented during the main Forum on March 14 by a panel which included Maria Mutagamba, the Ugandan Minister of Environment and Water.
At the close of the session, Kenza Kaouakib Robinson, the United Nations Water Secretary is quoted as having said “We’ve argued the case; now is the time to act!”
The good thing is there are many people already acting to address the inadequate supply of fresh water to households, especially in rural communities.
The Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT) from Uganda is one such organisation.
During the closing session of the Forum, they were presented with the third Kyoto World Water Grand Prize amounting to approximately US$37 000 (M286 000).
Since hosting the third Water Forum, Kyoto City in Japan has run the competition aimed at grassroots organisations in developing countries.
KWDT works in the rural areas of Uganda and its goal is to improve the living standards of poor communities, especially women.
Since 2002 the organisation has been managing a programme which aims to increase access to safe and clean water, sanitation and hygiene through behavioural change.
It also seeks to minimise water and hygiene related diseases.
Even though “the right of access to water” is recognised as a fundamental human right by the United Nations, it is yet to be put into practice by many countries.
Reports indicate that only forty countries in the world have made access to water a constitutional right.
This presents a problem because water is crucial to the attainment of almost all of the Millennium Development Goals and with just three years to go until 2015, there is not much time.
Lesotho also featured at the Water Forum.
Together with South Africa, a combined exhibition of the jointly managed Lesotho Highlands Water Project was held.
This project is known to be one of the biggest engineering projects of its kind in the world. According to media reports, the stand was officially opened by the South Africa Deputy Water Affairs Minister, Rejoice Mabudafhasi and it had a backdrop photograph of the giant Katse Dam.
The multi-billion rand second phase of the project will include construction of a dam and the boring of a 38 kilometre-long tunnel which is expected to start supplying water in July 2020.
According to Women for Water Partnership, the following are the commitments that were made at the Forum: Empower women as agents of change; Strengthen women’s organisations and their role in community development; Develop and strengthen gender sensitisation for governments and water professionals; Strengthen intergenerational equity; Work towards the establishment of an International Women and Water Day; and Monitor progress and report to global fora.
Clearly, stakeholders working in this sector have their work cut out.
One hopes that efforts will be channelled to not only plugging the “hole in the bucket” but doing away with the bucket altogether.
l Tendai Murahwa is a writer, consultant and trainer living in Maseru. Her areas of interest are women, leadership and personal transformation.