Women as Water Managers

There is enough fresh water on the planet for 7.7 billion people who inhabit it , but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed. Quarter of the world’s population face water shortage as domestic water consumption has grown over 600% over the last 50 years.

Countries and people are fighting on account of water and look at this database with a chronological listing of recorded water conflicts globally. In 2018 Cape Town, South Africa taps ran dry in an infamous event called ’Day Zero’ and India’s water hostilities every summer have unfortunately become common . Texas, the second largest state in USA will need to find an extra 10 trillion liters of water by 2070 ; the question is how ?

The gender gap and water :

In the Indian economy , women are grossly under-represented making up only 26% of the workforce and contributing only 17% of India’s gross domestic product, as compared to the global average of 37%. In the Global Gender Gap Index 2020 rankings, India slipped 4 places to 112th rank in gender empowerment.

Lack of access to safe drinking water supply, particularly impacts women as they are disproportionately burdened with the responsibilities related to water: collection, treatment, use for domestic chores, and caring for family members ill from waterborne diseases. In households that do not have access to drinking water on premises, 80% of the water is collected by women. This gender disparity has resulted in low contribution of women to India’s economy and on an average 66% of women’s work in India is unpaid.

With a view on farming , water management and involvement of women , the table below summarizes some of the top reasons preventing women participation in water user associations in Eastern India and why women are often ignored. Overall, only men participating and addressing the meetings, and men making all the decisions, were major obstacles to participation of women.

The relevant data are obtained from the states of Assam and Bihar through a focused survey administered to 109 women in 30 water institutions, and a larger farmer-institutional survey covering 510 households and 51 water institutions.

Success stories of water projects empowering women in rural India :

1. Safe Water Network project: Transforming women from water carriers to women entrepreneurs and managers

In Telangana state, private companies providing water to the community is expensive(15 Rupees for a 20-liter container ) and unaffordable for many . Safe water network helped setup several water stations that are locally managed ,operated and water priced affordably at approximately 4 rupees per 20 liters .

Just like Bank ATMs, these water stations(called iJal meaning ‘my water’ in Hindi) are installed at convenient locations and consumers can purchase and pay for water using a card (e-payments) anytime of the day. Water is locally sourced and treated for water contaminants and local women are trained to manage and operate the water stations.

These iJal stations owned and operated by women has been a huge success with almost 49 water stations providing 150,000 people access to clean water in Medak district of Telangana.

These women are proving to be competent water managers keen to learn both technical and managerial skills. Not only has this increased the self-confidence and independence of the women who run it , these projects are also financially viable and provide capacity and opportunity for women to become active leaders in the iJal value chain as entrepreneurs, operators, field executives, and mobilizers in the provision of safe water to local communities .

These water projects are now extended to the states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Women managing water stations

2. Tata-Cornell Institute AguaClara project : Clean drinking water systems

The vision of Mr Ratan Tata (former chairman of India’s Tata Group) , this initiative was made possible improving access to clean water and sanitation for villages in Jharkhand state of Eastern India.

Using low-cost and innovative technologies, the water treatment systems consist of a filtration unit for removing suspended matter and a chemical dosing unit for removing fecal contamination, making it safe for drinking and cooking. Solar-powered pumps move the water from lowland wells to an elevated tank in the village and then into homes, all without using electricity or fossil fuels. The outcomes reveal that women in households with piped water save an average of almost 1 hour per day on water collection, compared to households without them. Apart from being healthier, access to clean water in the home frees female family members to live more productive lives.

Tata Group enabling piped water projects in Jharkhand, India

3. Jal Jeevan mission :

A Government of India campaign run by the Ministry of Jal Shakti called  Jal Jeevan Mission, is envisioned to provide safe and adequate drinking water through individual household tap connections by 2024 to all households in rural India. All States and Union Territories to plan for their drinking water safety and Gram Panchayats / rural communities to plan, implement, manage, own, operate and maintain their own in-village water supply systems.

Some of the highlights are :

  • Solar Energy based stand-alone water supply systems for scattered/ isolated/ tribal/ hilly villages
  • Community Water Purification Plants in Groundwater Contaminated Areas
  • Cold deserts are primarily located in high altitudes in Himalayan region of Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, etc. with primary source of water is glacial melt, which is being impacted due to climate change. Promoting use of micro-irrigation can reduce the irrigation requirement to increase drinking water security.

Lessons learnt from these stories :

India needs to catch up with the rest of the world and ensure women are mandatorily represented, have enough opportunities to grow as female leaders and can actionize others in the community to contribute to their own health, livelihood and wellbeing in general .

  • To ensure greater equity in water access, women must be included in decision-making related to water and irrigation. The non-availability of water puts additional burden on women; hence water programs and projects must be planned with a view of women as significant water users.
  • Focused training for women through STEM(curriculum in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and vocational programs and initiatives on conservation and utilization of water.
  • We must aim for more women as water managers and encourage them to organize and participate in networking opportunities and community events that cater to women and girls, improve partnerships, providing them with the space and time to share tips and practices to improve water efficiency.

Published by Meena Iyer

Sustainability champion and naturally committed to support the cause of healing our planet impacted due to climate change.

One thought on “Women as Water Managers

  1. Correlation between gender gap and water management was very insightful. Government needs to push more women representatives in local gram panchayat and zilla parishad levels.


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