Access to water: a woman’s right?

Access to water: a woman’s right?

Access to water: a woman’s right?

Having enough water for food production is a key issue in many countries. As water becomes scarce and food requirements increase, there will be a need to produce more food using less water, to protect the quality of water and the environment, particularly in Africa. To achieve this, it will be necessary to improve women’s access rights to water.

Research fromthe Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations looks at theissues facing poor communities, and especially women, trying to ensure accessto water. Water is a scarce resource in many countries and water-usedecisions are difficult. However, access to water for poor communities isnecessary if countries are going to meet the first Millennium Development Goalof eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

There are many demands for waterin developing countries.

  • Irrigation schemes can increase crop productionand enable farmers to diversify into higher value crops.
  • Rain-fed agriculture relies on moisturepreservation measures and water harvesting.
  • Aquaculture provides both income and food. Coastaland lake fisheries are sustainable because they do not reduce the water supplyand can be combined with other activities.
  • Food processing and marketing require water forcooking. These activities provide income in rural and urban areas.
  • Using water for cooking and washing places amajor burden on supplies and often requires women and children to travel longdistances to fetch supplies.

In most parts of the world, womenplay in key role in these activities. Their knowledge of water conditions andthe environment is a vital factor in their ability to provide enough food fortheir families. However, very few women own land. Only ten percent of femalefarmers own land in India, Nepal and Thailand (even less in other countries)making it difficult for women to gain access water which is often on other people’s land.

Water shortages can also causeproblems. With so competing demands on limited water supplies, many regionsneed tighter controls over use. One solution would be to raise water prices,which, in theory, encourage more efficient use, but this is unfair on poorpeople and in fact reduces their access to water.

Policies need to increase poorpeople’s access to water, especially landless women. This will require strongmeasures such as:

  • Governments must promote the participation of womenin water resource management. South Africa has already successfullyachieved this.
  • Women must become active members of water usersassociations, including leadership positions.
  • Women must have more influence in the planning andmanagement of farm activities.
  • Water is needed to restore degraded land. The localknowledge of both men and women can assist this process, along with anunderstanding of the ways poor people use land.

In many places, customs and lawsdetermine women’s access to water and their role in water-related activities.These can be hard to overcome, but women must have more influence in determiningpatterns of water use and access. This is very important if this increasinglyscarce resource is to be used in the most efficient and productive ways.