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Gender is a critical aspect of water management and sanitation and plays a key role in achieving adequate access to potable water by 2010, in keeping with the Millennium Development Goals. This was the general consensus of stakeholders at a workshop to examine the findings and recommendations of the gender and sanitation study and its policy implications. The workshop was hosted by the Ministry of Water and Housing under the Rural Water and Sanitation Project (RWSP) at the Ministry’s Dominica Drive offices yesterday (March 29).
The session sought to explore some of the key issues of the findings, which will result in a concept paper or framework for action, which is to be presented to the Cabinet Office. The concept paper will serve an addendum to the National Water Management Policy, which addresses water resource management.
While representatives of a number of benevolent societies, which now provide water management in a number of communities, expressed the view that proper management of water systems was essential, they also agreed with the key findings of the research, that men and women used water differently.
Policy analyst, Bridget McDonald Levy, who led the discussion on gender policy for the water and sanitation sectors, said the study determined that men and women had different motivators for investing time, labour and capital in agriculture and social welfare. “So women will tend to have a greater motivation for looking about children whereas men’s motivators might be different,” she said.
The study also found that female farmers were hampered by access to land and that there was differential access to domestic and irrigation water. In addition, it was found that the control of community water was male dominated and when rural men migrated to urban areas for employment, women had to take on the agricultural role, putting them through even greater hardship to source water.
“Another strong point that came out was that violence is often associated with sourcing water,” Ms. Levy said, adding, “when you are walking alone with a bucket of water on your head, you are very vulnerable and if you send a 12 or 13 year-old girl or even a boy in today’s society, then there are also opportunities for them to become victims of violence”.The research further deduced that water quality affected women as caregivers, impacting on children in the form of illnesses due to lack of clean water. It also impacts on attendance at school, the research found, as rural children often had to dedicate time to assist with sourcing water.
It was also found that 42 per cent of rural households relied on pit latrines. “The issue that came up here is that once they have completed using the latrine, there is no hand-washing facility and in addition, because sometimes the pit latrines aren’t adequately considered when they are being sited and developed, there is contamination of rivers and water supply”.
In female-headed households, Ms. Levy said, the cost of water took up a larger percentage of the household budget, due to the fact that there was only one breadwinner in such households.
Meanwhile, Community Development and Gender Specialist for the Rural Water Project, Linnette Vassell, noted that income generating activities were hampered by lack of or limited access to water and that what some rural communities expended to source water, was often higher than what they would be paying if they had regular water supply.
Ms. Levy emphasized that there was no call for the Water Policy to be revised, but instead, the development of a concept paper or framework for action around the policy.
The study recommended gender mainstreaming for water planning and management, and for clear, gender-specific strategies to be articulated in the Policy. “The study actually said to revise the policy, but we are just saying we are going to articulate the strategies and put them as an addendum,” she said. The study also called for data collection to support gender decision-making for water supply and use; financial commitment; and specific gender relevant studies such as time and cost relating to water use.
Specific actions recommended by the study include: differential payment scale for low income households/female headed households; policy decisions on the use of pit latrines; use of technology to convert irrigation water to domestic water in areas without adequate household water supply; addressing squatting and settlement issues; and ensuring that future policies adopt a gender approach.
Ms. Vassel added that the study had pointed to the need for a social water policy and the group agreed that social water needed to be properly defined as this had been a contentious issue on which consensus had not yet been reached in the sector. The group stressed that a subsidy had to be provided for the most vulnerable, particularly in light of the upcoming review of the National Water Commission’s tariff next year.
Director of the RWSP, Ian Gage, stressed that social water had a direct link to settlement, so too, the matter of water being provided to people, who chose to live where there was no water.
On this matter, Leonard James of the Whitehorses/ Pamphret Benevolent Society said, “we’re looking at a number of different areas to deal with the issue and one of the suggestions is to do a survey of the real needy people in the community.” As a goal for 2010, the group concluded that there should be gender equity in the management of water and that there should be adequate, accessible and affordable access to water and sanitation as components of human development.
The participants also agreed that access to water should not just be a matter of survival, but should also be a matter of civil comfort, enabling people to have access to enough water to live with dignity. The group further summarized that financing for sanitation solutions needed to be a key issue under the sanitation policy, now in its draft stage.
They concurred that capacity building had to be intensified with gender training and sensitization in the Ministry, as well as in the planning authorities, the Ministry of Land and Environment and the Cabinet office.
Participatory research was also pointed to, which would involve communities and state agencies. The workshop agreed that there should be: a gender review of policies impacting on Water Resources Management; a public education campaign; an advocate group; an examination of social water on behalf of the most vulnerable persons in rural communities; and a monitoring and evaluation strategy.
The group will reconvene to review the draft report from the workshop and make changes, after which a presentation will be made to the Ministry’s water division. The water sector steering committee will then review the report after which a presentation will be made to the Minister of Water and Housing, before it is submitted to Cabinet.
The Ministry’s water sector policy speaks to an Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) framework, which provides a cross-sectoral policy approach to responding to growing demands for water in the context of finite supplies.

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