There has been a spotlight on climate change, and issues related to climate change this year. Finances have been pledged towards mitigating various crises that have emanated due to legacies of extraction, industrialization and environmental degradation.
In Africa, water access, management and distribution remain key issues that affect womn. At UAF-Africa, we know that the water crisis is very personal for women. According to UNESCO (2016) an estimated three quarters of households in sub-Saharan Africa fetch water from a source away from their home and 50% to 85% of the time, womn are responsible for this task. Currently, through climate financing, water management projects are largely privatized leading to womn facing more nuanced struggles with accessing safe and clean water. Typically, due to climate financing being controlled by multilateral finance institutions – projects are largely proposed/bid for by private entities, funded by development institutions and the management of water is shifted to private control, leading to monetization of a natural resource which is a human right. This means that for many living on the margins, the cost of water is now prohibitive and yet this is a vital resource for sustaining life.
In our recently published report on water justice: womn&water in Africa, an overview of water justice struggles, (also available in French) we highlighted a few water management projects, coupled with movement restrictions imposed to mitigate COVID-19 and how they have affected women. Our report also shared the multi-faceted nature in which womn face challenges due to the barrier of water monetization, which impacts their social wellbeing, economic participation, safety and security. To set an example, African womn account for 73% of those economically active in agriculture and produce more than 80 percent of the food crops (FAO 2011). Rural women are the guardians of household food security as food producers, fuelwood and water collectors. During the pandemic, countries-imposed lockdowns that affected womn’s lives, livelihood and water realities in specific ways.
African womn were also restricted from going to their fields and interrogated by heavily armed police as part of the militarized response to COVID 19. As a result, some lost their livestock, and harvest; womn lost their livelihoods at a huge scale. As a result, the demand for water at home and pressure on womn to access water increased significantly.There are also other ways in which restrictive water access affect womn, and we believe the solutions to enhancing water access, management and control for womn are rooted in dismantling the current neoliberal practices which are rooted in water privatization.
Water injustice is not a technical issue that is solved through implanting boreholes and water standpipes. It has shown more structural problems thus it requires long term structural solutions. We believe that we need to use a multifaceted feminist framework to enhance water accessibility, which will decrease various socio-political and socio-economic stressors that womn in Africa experience. This entails developing a movement building approach towards repurposing water’s administration to the state, as to private actors. We believe that there should be more targeted funding at all levels in the field of water justice, including but not limited to: theorizing and knowledge production, movement building, capacity building and protection of activists and womn human rights defenders – with an acute consideration for womn living with disabilities and frontliners in rural areas.
As we close off women’s month let’s remember water is a human right, and it is our duty to ensure that this human right is honoured. Without sustainable access to clean water, it is disproportionately harder for women and girls to thrive in society. Access to water can empower women to break the gender bias and by extension benefit their families too.