How is the global water crisis a women’s issue?
Gender equality is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 5). Likewise, gender intersects with other social relations of power, particularly in the developing world to determine who has access to how much water, when and where. Women have diverse water needs including water for both domestic (bathing, washing, drinking, cooking) and productive (agriculture, small enterprises, aquaculture) purposes. Access to water cannot be seen in isolation from access to sanitation and good hygiene, including menstrual health management. And of course, water quality and safe wastewater disposal are as important as availability.
Competition and conflicts over water, particularly in the context of water scarcity or multiple uses from the same water source can impact women differentially, e.g. walking further to collect water for domestic purposes or using water of poor quality. Long lines at community stand posts and fights over water brought by tankers are not uncommon in many semi-arid areas prone to water scarcity. In many parts of the world, gender intersects with social caste to determine who has access to which water. Typically in India, Dalit (lower caste) women often are not allowed to access the village well or if they do, the area has to be purified after they have withdrawn water. Urbanisation and concomitantly, the growth of peri-urban areas has also put pressure on common water resources. For instance, tanks and ponds have been filled with concrete for the development of housing, malls, etc. affecting drainage channels and leading to waterlogging during flash floods. Marginalised women in marginalised or fragile environments prone to climate uncertainty are more vulnerable, as are women in conflict prone areas and refugee camps.
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