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'Water women'. From naiads to water managers

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  • 'Water women'. From naiads to water managers

About the blog

Agustina López Martín
Civil Engineer and Graduate in Environmental Sciences, specialized in environmental consultancy.
Schneider Electric
Idrica
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In Greek mythology, naiads where the nymphs of freshwater bodies — fountains, wells, springs, streams and brooks — female entities that embodied divinity in the water body they lived in. The essence of a naiad was linked to its water body, so that, if it were to dry up, she would die: as nymphs, naiads were mortal, although they had a long life. In ancient times, 'water men' were those responsible for water engineering to dominate water.

Moving from myths to present day, we must be aware that, in many countries, it is women who every day face obstacles to access drinking water. In most cases, the source of water is far away from their homes, they have to walk through rough terrain, and the water supply may not be enough for all family members. Water is part of the daily chores assigned to them to maintain their families, and millions of girls in the world must also do house chores and collect water every day.

On the other hand, having access to drinking water and proper sanitation, something that seems so normal in developed countries, is key for girls in developing countries to be able to attend school. There are many countries where schools do not have appropriate hygiene conditions, safe drinking water and facilities without failures. Even though this situation affects children of all ages, the lack of proper sanitation is particularly detrimental for girls; it forces many of them to quit school because of lack of privacy, safety, and lack of respect for their dignity.

Even though women have a prominent role in the water supply, they continue to be relegated to the background in water debates and in decision-making processes, in the community, national and international realms. Not only is their low participation noticeable, but also, the way things are done, that is, they are asked for their opinion, but they are little involved as technicians or water managers.

There is a widespread notion that science is a men's field. And, although it is not true, most of the scientists that have gone down in history are men. Even if Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards (1842 - 1911) is considered the mother of environmental engineering. While studying water quality in Massachusetts she coined the term 'environmental hygiene', the basis of modern ecology, and developed analysis methods that continue to be in use today.

Throughout history, women have shown outstanding capacity to find solutions in harmony with the natural environment and build 'solidarity networks', and solidarity is nowadays one of the principles of water management. Studies carried out over more than two decades have concluded that the involvement of women in the water sector entails substantial improvements to the leadership, transparency and the sustainability of the water supply. In fact, an evaluation done by the World Bank showed that just by involving women you can increase the effectiveness of water projects six or seven fold compared with those project which don't.

Any public water policy must incorporate a gender approach to ensure its sustainability, for example by raising awareness about the differences in gender roles and taking into account the viewpoints of women during planning processes. In addition, it is necessary to increase the participation of women in sector policies and water project planning and development, so they can contribute their knowledge as technicians and managers.

 

It is time to move from imagery to reality, from naiads to water managers, acknowledging the role of women as crucial agents of change, and gender equality and equity as essential elements to achieve sustainable development, eliminate poverty and enforce human rights. Mass media must give a voice to women that act as role models for many others in the water sector

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