JIS News

The Gender in Water and Sanitation research, commissioned by the Ministry of Water and Housing has concluded that women play a major role in managing water supply and sanitation issues. The essential issue highlighted by the research, which was conducted in the communities of Mile Gully, and Warwick Castle in St. Mary; and Gravel Hill, Clarendon, was the need for increased access to piped water.
Presently, 45 per cent of rural Jamaican households have piped water, 24 per cent source water from standpipes, 23 per cent use rain water tanks, while the remaining eight per cent get water from rivers, streams and ponds.
It was found that women and girls bore the greatest responsibility for acquiring and collecting potable water supplies for their homes.
Usually, long hours are spent collecting water from springs, rivers, standpipes and canals. To add to this, the women are faced with the gruelling task of moving this water from place to place. The job may last between four and five hours and comes with some measure of discomfort. Children of these households are also co-opted to help from as early as age three.
On the other hand, it is interesting to note that men hardly ever carry water except in cases where they live alone or for agricultural and animal rearing purposes. The view is that women are the ones at home so they should be held responsible for carrying water. Additionally, there are others who accept it as the norm even when the man is not working.
According to Linnette Vassell, Community Development and Gender Specialist, the research was done within the context of the implementation of the Rural Water and Sanitation Project and the commitment of the Ministry of Water and Housing to strengthen its capacity to deal with this sector.
In addition, she pointed out that it was important to take a gender-sensitive approach in meeting the policies and objectives of the Ministry. These “include capacity enhancement of men and women for effective, efficient and equitable solutions to the challenges of water resource management and development,” Mrs. Vassell noted.
Based on the findings, Mrs. Vassell said there was “need to review all policies and programmes in the water sector to see gaps in terms of women’s participation in decision-making.”
She additionally stated that, “there is need to implement measures to support the participation of women in the management of the water sector.we have to look at our institutions like NWC, Water Resources Authority, National Irrigation Commission, to ensure that issues of gender are taken into account in their policies, programmes and management practices.”
By doing this, Mrs. Vassell said, water and sanitation policies will respond to the realities of the life of women, men, girls and boys. While explaining the implications of the results, Mrs. Vassell told JIS News that the “findings will inform and hopefully influence the imminent review of laws and regulations, for example, the Water Supply and Sewerage Act, which will bring significant changes to the water sector.”
The findings should also impact the Sanitation Policy, which is being formulated and will hopefully lead to the strengthening of mechanisms and practices within the Water Ministry and its related agencies. This approach is “critical as we daily confront the challenges of disaster mitigation, reducing poverty, confronting HIV/AIDS and all the challenges identified and targets set by the Millennium Development Goals,” she said.
The idea is to examine impartially how “our social, economic and political life as well as our relations in the family are shaped by our cultural beliefs and practices,” Mrs. Vassell continued.
“Our culture has established set roles for women and men and many of these practices are discriminatory to women and harmful to men,” she declared.
“We have to think afresh and re-shape our relations so that women and men can have equal opportunities and experiences. This applies to equity in the sharing of responsibilities in the family, as well as to the sharing of power to decide how our resources must be organised and utilised,” she further asserted.
The Millennium Development Goal for the water sector is to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015 and the Government of Jamaica is ahead of the schedule with respect to the provision of access to potable water.
At present, 72 per cent of the population has access to piped water and by 2010 this figure is to be increased to 85 per cent.