Women and Water

An introduction to the international water problem


1.4 billion people have no access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion are without access to adequate sanitation services. The consequences are devastating: 30,000 persons are dying every day from diseases caused by absence of safe drinking water and lack of sanitation...

It has been predicted that by the year 2032, 60% of the world population will live in regions characterized by water scarcity.

There will be proliferation and hardening of water conflicts within and across countries. Water is now being increasingly referred to as the 'blue gold' in analogy with crude oil that is termed as 'black gold' therefore people are more and more convinced that the 21st century will be the century of 'water wars'...

(from brochure: "People's March For Water"
People's World Water Forum

Declaration of the Peoples World Water Movement: New Delhi, India, 14 January 2004
"We stand in clear opposition to the oligarchy of the World Water Council and commit to democratic control; peoples based control of the world's water resources. We commit to working on the ground with women and men in communities, recognizing the special impacts of the world's water crisis on women..."
Read full declaration

At a Glance - Women and Water In developing societies, women are most often responsible for domestic and community water management.
Download as pdf report
from UNIFEM here

Water, Women, & War Laura Santina, Z Magazine, November 2004
"Water was the biggest buzz at the 2004 Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom Congress held in August in the town of Kungälv, Sweden. During the week-long conference … over 300 women from 31 countries discussed the condition, distribution, and availability of water in their own countries."

Damn the Dams: An Interview with Medha Patkar
By Robert Jensen, AlterNet February 25, 2004

Medha Patkar, 1992 winner of the Goldman Prize
1991 recipient of the Right Livelihood Award

"Over the past two decades the struggle against dam projects that threaten the right to life and livelihood for the people of India's Narmada valley has grown into one of the world's largest non-violent social movements. Activist Medha Patkar has been at the center of these struggles, gaining worldwide notoriety for sharp analysis and courageous activism that has included long fasts, police beatings and jail."
(excerpt from the interview)

For more information on the Narmada issues:
Friends of River Narmada
, Association for India's Development or International Rivers Network.

Medha Patkar: ..."Development issues cannot be contained within national boundaries. In India, even though there is hardly any land to relocate people onto, the projects are on the fast track, and those decisions are being made not just in Delhi and Bombay but also in Washington and Geneva. When there are more and more such projects going forward, the people's sovereignty over natural resources and human rights are bypassed. So, it's essential that we reach the global centers of power to fight not just centralized planning, but privatization-based planning. We have had to fight that at the local and national level. We have to ally with friends across the world to know the companies and challenge the companies, we have to have joint plans and action. The same is true of the struggles of people in Mexico, the Philippines, Pakistan, South Africa, or within the United States and European countries..."

Resources on Women and Water

Diverting the Flow

"Every day, many women and girls walk or travel long distances to bring water to their families, often at the expense of education, income generating activities, cultural and political involvement, and rest and recreation. Despite this, women’s central role in water resources management is often ignored.
Privatization is one aspect of the world’s water crisis that is having a deeply negative impact on the livelihoods of women."

Download this new 12 page booklet "Diverting the Flow" by Women's Environment & Development Organization and Public Citizen (in PDF Format or as a word document). It has excellent quotes and sources for more information, as well as case studies of water privatization.

The Gender and Water Alliance
The Gender and Water Alliance is a network of 133 organisations and individuals from around the world with an independent steering committee. It is an Associated Programme of the Global Water Partnership (GWP) funded by the governments of the Netherlands and United Kingdom. Beacuse of the pooled experience and skills contained in this network, the GWA offers a mix of information and knowledge sharing activities such as electronic conferencing, a web site, advocacy leaflets and video, annual reports, capacity building and pilot programmes.

In South Africa, the Poor Could Win the Water Battle
By Fabienne Pompey Le Monde FR Tuesday 24 February 2004

"South African anti-privatization movements are poised to win the water battle. Ever since the government adopted the World Bank-imposed "total cost recovery" principle, the cost of water has become inaccessible for the poorest sectors of the population. Private companies, which had rushed into these new markets, begin to become disillusioned..."
Read article here

Women and Water Privatization
November 2003 By Ana Elena Obando, WHRnet

"Water is a fundamental and inalienable human right and a common good that every person and institution of this planet should protect. This resource is, like air, a heritage of humanity and must be declared that way. Water is not merchandize and no person or institution should be allowed to get rich from the sale of it. It should not be privatized, marketed, exported or transferred to a few multinational companies, which today already control 90 percent of privatized water utilities. For the GATT, NAFTA and FTAA, water is a commodity, an investment, a simple service for commercial use and profit.
Women are the most affected by this crisis. More than half of the 1.2 billion people who do not have access to water are women and girls..."
Read study here

Women and Water Resources United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization site for information on women and water supply and use, sanitation, and further links to agricultural issues concerning rural women.

"Women play an important role in water management. They are most often the collectors, users and managers of water in the household as well as farmers of irrigated and rainfed crops. Because of these roles, women have considerable knowledge about water resources, including quality and reliability, restrictions and acceptable storage methods, and are key to the success of water resources development and irrigation policies and programmes."

Bororo woman watering in the Niger

Women and Water: Resources Supply and Use: In 1996 UNESCO launched a Special Project entitled "Women and Water: Resources Supply and Use" ... (aimed) at improving the quality of life of women in rural and urban areas in Sub-Saharan African countries, by facilitating their access to water resources and by improving water resources management.

"Water for All News" December 2003
Focus -- Women and Water
from the Asian Development Bank.

Women and Water Peacework Magazine, March 1999
By Susan Murcott, engineering consultant from Boston, Massachusetts USA

..."women are often not empowered to make important decisions about water. As I well know from my own engineering education and practice, women are a minority in the water engineering and management professions; decisions about water are often made by men."

Links for more information on water:

Water for All: Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program

Public Citizen's Water for All Campaign "is dedicated to protecting water as a common resource, stopping water privatization and bulk water sales, and defending access to clean and affordable water around the world."
See their Fact Sheets , such as "Top Ten Reasons to Oppose Water Privatization"
and Activists' Guide to Fight Water Privatization

Blue Gold: The Battle Against Corporate Theft of the World’s Water

By Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke

The Blue Planet Project

is an international effort begun by The Council of Canadians to protect the world’s fresh water from the growing threats of trade and privatization.

RiverNet " the server for living rivers"

International Rivers Network

Clean Water Action
is a national citizens' organization working for clean, safe and affordable water, prevention of health-threatening pollution, creation of environmentally-safe jobs and businesses, and empowerment of people to make democracy work.

Regional USA water groups:

Sweetwater Alliance: Michigan's citizens take action to protect their water.

Hudson River Sloop Clearwater: Clearwater conducts environmental education, advocacy programs and celebrations to protect the Hudson River, its tributaries and related bodies of water. ...

On water privatization

Promoting Privatization February 3, 2003 — The explosive growth of three private water utility companies in the last 10 years raises fears that mankind may be losing control of its most vital resource to a handful of monopolistic corporations. In Europe and North America, analysts predict that within the next 15 years these companies will control 65 percent to 75 percent of what are now public waterworks. The companies have worked closely with the World Bank and other international financial institutions to gain a foothold on every continent. They aggressively lobby for legislation and trade laws to force cities to privatize their water and set the agenda for debate on solutions to the world's increasing water scarcity. The companies argue they are more efficient and cheaper than public utilities. Critics say they are predatory capitalists that ultimately plan to control the world's water resources and drive up prices even as the gap between rich and poor widens. The fear is that accountability will vanish, and the world will lose control of its source of life. read report

What has been the role of the World Bank?

WASHINGTON, February 3, 2003 — Despite World Bank contentions that it does not force privatization on the poor, research by ICIJ and the bank itself showed that privatization is playing an ever-increasing role in bank lending policies. Printer-Friendly VersionPrinter-Friendly Version Email This PageEmail This Page Send Us Your CommentsSend Us Your Comments Using data available from the World Bank Web site, ICIJ analyzed 276 loans labeled "water supply" awarded by the bank between 1990 and November 2002. In about one third of the projects, the World Bank required the country to privatize its water operations in some form before it received funds.
read report

to ecology menu