Women are bet­ter placed to man­age our wa­ter af­fairs

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Hosia Sithole

THIS YEAR’S cel­e­bra­tion of Women’s Month should be about ask­ing tough ques­tions re­gard­ing mas­culin­ity be­ing the stan­dard against which every­thing is mea­sured, while women are plead­ing at their feet and claim­ing the ba­sic of rights.

One of these per­ti­nent ques­tions is whether the chal­lenges we are fac­ing in the wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion sec­tor would have been to this ex­tent had women played a role.

We must con­cede that it has been fool­ish on the part of men to con­sign the role of women in wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion to only be­ing col­lec­tors of the re­source. The ex­clu­sion of women has failed to take into ac­count the fact that in­vest­ment in women is one of the fun­da­men­tal in­vest­ments we can make to ad­dress the triple chal­lenge of poverty, in­equal­ity and un­em­ploy­ment. The ob­vi­ous re­sult of this in­vest­ment would have, in turn, brought about the triple ben­e­fits of growth, pros­per­ity and in­ter­na­tional com­pet­i­tive­ness.

Women are said to be the lifeblood of the wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion sec­tor, but are conspicuous by their ab­sence, thanks largely to rea­sons as­so­ci­ated with is­sues of pa­tri­archy rather than any sound logic.

It is fur­ther dis­turb­ing, be­cause it is women who are at the fore­front of do­ing the hard work of trans­port­ing and clean­ing wa­ter, while the man­age­ment and dis­tri­bu­tion is con­sid­ered the pre­serve of males.

It is in light of this that the Depart­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion came up with the Women in Wa­ter En­trepreneur­ship In­cu­ba­tor Pro­gramme to foster in­clu­siv­ity in the wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion sec­tor. Through this ini­tia­tive the depart­ment will this month be fa­cil­i­tat­ing a safe and sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment for new en­trepreneurs, tar­get­ing es­pe­cially the pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged groups to start-up and sus­tain their busi­nesses and to help them ac­cess avail­able op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Women’s in­volve­ment in the sec­tor has a knock-on ef­fect on so­cial mat­ters, most specif­i­cally food se­cu­rity. Much has been said about ac­cess of women to land to en­able them eke out a liveli­hood. How­ever, this re­mains a day­dream with­out women also be­com­ing sig­nif­i­cant play­ers in the wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion sec­tor. Ac­cess to land with­out ac­cess to wa­ter is a fu­tile ex­er­cise. This amounts to noth­ing more than the per­pet­u­a­tion of vic­tim­i­sa­tion and ex­clu­sion of women.

Dif­fi­cul­ties in the wa­ter con­trol and use, to­gether with the lack of main­te­nance of the hy­draulic in­fra­struc­ture, lead­ing to hy­draulic sys­tem los­ing the ef­fi­ciency needed, is a crit­i­cal area in which women could and should play a piv­otal role.

The hu­man and ma­te­rial re­sources that women can pro­vide could as­sist the sec­tor to achieve ad­e­quate con­trol of wa­ter as the tech­ni­cal sur­veil­lance of the hy­draulic work and sys­tem is at the core of fa­cil­i­tat­ing its eco­nomic progress.

Thus, the depart­ment seeks to break the glass ceil­ing by in­te­grat­ing women into the sec­tor through mean­ing­ful part­ner­ships to trans­fer skills and ex­pe­ri­ence in the crit­i­cal ar­eas of op­er­a­tions and main­te­nance.

Min­is­ter of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion Nomvula Mokonyane lamented the ex­clu­sion of women from the sec­tor dur­ing her speech at the Women in Wa­ter In­cu­ba­tor Pro­gramme, say­ing women dis­pense with the role of be­ing draw­ers of wa­ter but must be­come ma­jor play­ers in the sec­tor.

Mokonyane said: “We want to shake the wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion sec­tor (so that) women are not just those that must go and col­lect wa­ter from the rivers and bring wa­ter that you share with an­i­mals. They must be sup­pli­ers of pipes. They must man­age reser­voirs and help look af­ter this scarce re­source. It is about mak­ing women part of the en­tire wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion value chain.”

Ac­cord­ingly, as we cel­e­brate Women’s Month, the im­per­a­tive should be to get women to ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in the sec­tor. This is even more ur­gent be­cause of the calami­tous drought con­di­tions. Un­til we carve out a sig­nif­i­cant part for women in the sec­tor, we will face chronic wa­ter short­ages.

Their role should go be­yond just be­ing col­lec­tors of the re­source

Com­mu­ni­ca­tor in the Depart­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion (Gaut­eng re­gion).

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