In this interview for our 'Women and Water' cycle, Carlota Real tells us about her view from a position at an international organisation such as the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), where she works as a Water Specialist, providing support to the Knowledge Management team.
Question: First, we would like to know in detail about your career path up to your current position.
Answer: I am a Civil Engineer, have a Master's in Management and a postgraduate degree in WaSH. I started my career in an engineering consultancy, working on water resource planning issues in the basins in the north of Spain. After a few months, my work focused on water supply projects in several mid-sized cities in northern Algeria. From then on, I focused on water, sanitation and hygiene projects in other developing countries, such as Panama or Bolivia.
After 5 years, I started a new chapter in my career with a position at CAF, as water specialist for Venezuela, and after almost 3 years, I am now a water specialist for Argentina, while I support the Knowledge Management team with regards to the water sector.
The problem lies mainly in decision making and in power relationships in the sector
Q: In the water sector we continue to see an important gender gap. Why do you think this is?
A: The problem lies mainly in decision making and in power relationships in the sector, both in committees in rural areas, in service providers, or in other sector institutions at the national or regional level. We see that women are underrepresented, and although things have improved in the past few years, it is not enough; obviously, it overlooks the interests of a portion of the population which is more vulnerable and has a greater presence in the sector.
This statement poses some important questions. First, ¿how do women access the formal job market? This is an essential aspect when it comes to understanding their possibilities of gaining access to positions that are relevant for decision making, in any sector. Moreover, what are the responsibilities of each gender in daily water management? I most developing countries, women are usually responsible for the majority of household tasks (preparing meals, doing the laundry, caring for a vegetable garden, and sometimes, getting drinking water): they are the ones that manage water in this context. Furthermore, this contributes directly to maintaining gender inequalities in society, because women spend a significant portion of their time on household tasks related to water use, time which they cannot use for other activities such as training or generating their own income, for example.
Q: Does the CAF have any programmes and/or tools to foster equality, aimed to bridge the gender gap?
A: A few years ago, the CAF initiated a process to implement a gender approach in most of their projects in the water sector, ensuring a gender balance, with a focus on rural areas. In Bolivia, for example, in the projects 'MI AGUA' and 'MI RIEGO', a study was recently carried out to identify good practices to implement a cross-cutting gender approach; a comparative critical analysis was done to define operating criteria that contribute to normalising those good practices.
There is still an important salary gap between men and women, and job promotion is a complex issue
Q: What other measures (aside from those contemplated by companies) would be, in your view, effective to reach parity in the water sector?
A: It depends on the sub-sector: access to drinking water or sanitation, urban or rural, irrigation; and on the vision of the sector as a service, as an environmental asset, or as generating employment or wealth.
To highlight some key actions, we should start with measures in a broader context, since many inequality problems are cross-cutting, affecting all sectors, and should therefore be addressed through the implementation of inclusive public policies. These include examples of institutional practices that promote the inclusion of women at all levels, recognising not only their relationship to water, but also their experience and knowledge of water issues, either through legal mechanisms and/or economic incentives.
If we look down at the project scale, improving participatory processes in general is essential. Particularly, ensuring women participate too, because it is through these processes that citizens’ demands are included in the projects, thus strengthening their sustainability.
Q: Now let us talk about your experience, what difficulties have you faced in your career because you are a woman?
A: I am from Spain, where the barriers to access education or a formal job have for the most part been removed; therefore, the issues I have faced are the typical ones for a woman in a developed country, which tend to be unrelated to your sector of work. The fact is that, given the same educational background and job responsibilities, there is still an important salary gap between men and women, and job promotion is a complex issue.
Maybe in my case these inequalities have not been as obvious as what I have witnessed in the case of married women with children.
The huge potential of women to boost a country's economy is increasingly more recognised
Q: Are there any other pressing challenges that you think need to be addressed in the sector?
A: From a very broad point of view, the lack of information in the sector that sustains the gender gap is one of the challenges that, once overcome, will lead to policy making that is consistent with reality and, therefore, better focused.
So women strengthening and empowerment, to ensure they access decision making processes and jobs in the sector, but also to ensure their participation takes place in equal terms.
Q: Conversely, what do you think are the main achievements in the sector?
A: The fact that most international organisations or development organisations include a gender approach in all their water projects has been vital to raise awareness about the importance of this approach in projects, beyond those that receive funding from these organisations.
Additionally, in the past few years, many projects that encourage the participation of women in the agricultural sector have been funded in Latin America, contributing to meeting the needs of families, generating family income at the same time as women are empowered. This shows that the huge potential of women to boost a country's economy is increasingly more recognised, focusing on women's economic empowerment, both in the context of water management and in many other sectors.