"At Global Water Partnership, we are committed to achieving gender equality and social inclusion"
Global Water Partnership (GWP) is a neutral convener in the heart of the water sector pursuing to advance governance and management of water resources for sustainable and equitable development.
The first person dedicated full-time to gender in GWP, Liza Debevec, Senior Gender and Social Inclusion Specialist, is a social anthropologist with over two decades of experience in Sub Saharan Africa and nearly ten years’ experience in the water sector. She has been tasked with the gender dimensions of the global action network’s 2020-2025 Strategy. We spoke to Liza to learn a bit more about gender challenges in water resource management.
Can you tell us briefly about your career path and your current role in the Global Water Partnership?
I am a social anthropologist by training with over 20 years of field experience in Sub Saharan Africa. Prior to GWP, I spent seven years as a governance, gender, and poverty researcher at the International Water Management Institute. In my role as Senior Gender and Social Inclusion Specialist at GWP, I lead efforts to integrate gender into all aspects of its work and ensure women and marginalized groups can meaningfully engage in water governance decisions.
How does the Global Water Partnership (GWP) work towards reaching a water secure world?
For GWP, it is about water governance, that is, how we manage the resource. Water is used by all sectors of the economy for their own purposes. Few people look at how water is managed equitably and sustainably across all sectors. What GWP does is mobilise action through a combination of expertise (knowledge), credibility within the global water community (partnership), and bottom-up orientation: ensuring the ‘voices of water’ can inﬂuence local, national, regional, and global development priorities.
Governments and the private sector are realizing water is under threat and want the water sector to help them figure out what can be done
The GWP has been working to improve water governance for twenty years. How has the sector changed in these past two decades?
The water sector has become more cohesive in the last 20 years. One of the milestones that indicate this is the achievement of getting a comprehensive water goal (SDG 6) on the 2030 Agenda. Another indication is that water organisations are working together to monitor the implementation of that goal and to show how many of the other SDG goals are linked to water. Finally, more governments and the private sector are beginning to realize that this resource is under threat and so are wanting the water sector to help them figure out what can be done.
Why is achieving gender equality in water governance important? And how does the GWP work towards achieving this difficult task?
By avoiding the equality issue, and continuing business as usual, we would leave a large portion of the population behind
The role of women in water resource management has been – at least on paper – recognized for over three decades. In the context of integrated water resources management (IWRM), which is the guiding approach for GWP, both academics and practitioners have been talking about the importance of the role of women in this process since the early 1990s. The four Dublin principles, on which IWRM is based, include principle 3 on the role of women. This principle states that women play a central part in the provision, management, and safeguarding of water. One of the most generous donors to GESI issues (gender equity and social inclusion) around the globe, Melinda Gates, argues that while gender equality is a human rights issue it is also an undeniable economic issue. By avoiding the equality issue, and continuing business as usual, we would leave a large portion of the population behind and that makes no business sense. By including people of all genders in an equitable manner, we not only improve their well-being, but improve the well-being of our economy and our planet, and all its resources.
At Global Water Partnership, we have committed in our Strategy to achieving gender equality and social inclusion. We use the four action area approach as elaborated in our 2017 publication Gender equality and social inclusion in water resources management. We believe that there is a need to: (i) make gender a core business goal in any context (ii) conduct gender analysis to ensure we can drive informed data-informed change (iii) ensure meaningful participation of women and other marginalized groups in decision-making processes and (iv) work towards the creation of legal frameworks that give equal access to resources to all members of society.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacts women in a variety of negative ways, such as exacerbating the effect of water shortages on women
What success stories can you highlight in terms of improving gender equality in water governance?
Progress is slow, but there are examples of success. Currently, more and more institutions and governments around the world are making sure that their policies and projects address gender equality. GWP’s work on supporting the SDG 6.5.1. reporting is highlighting some of this work but also the challenges that countries face in measuring progress. GWP teams in 5 regions in Africa are working on a large programme that aims to ensure that water resource governance and climate change resilient initiatives are gender transformative. The sheer fact that we are now shifting the conversations from simple inclusion of women to the more important work of addressing and transforming gender norms that prevent the inclusion of women in the first place, is a huge step in the right direction. At GWP we are proud to be at the forefront of gender transformative work in Africa and in the other regions where we work.
Last year, the GWP published a report that found that women are still underrepresented in water resources management. Why do you think this is and what can be done to improve the numbers?
The main reasons here are lack of political will and consequent lack of resources to advance in this area. But there is hope. Our report highlights seven enabling factors to ensure improvement in this area.
How is the current coronavirus crisis affecting gender issues?
The COVID-19 pandemic impacts women in a variety of negative ways, such as exacerbating the effect of water shortages on women. While not directly related to water, women’s workloads in their homes have increased due to COVID-19, not just because of women’s role in ensuring hygiene in the home, but as an overall impact of family members staying at home, the need for more home cooked meals, etc. This extra burden impacts women who work at home and those who, due to Covid restrictions, are working from home. In our network, with much of our communication taking place on Zoom, we see the toll this has on women, who are, due to prevailing social norms, responsible for childcare and household duties. Women colleagues are under more stress and may not be able to focus on work as well as their male counterparts. This may result in negative impacts on women’s careers in the long run, further reducing the number of women in leadership positions in the water sector and beyond.