Women are better placed to manage our water affairs
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).