Women carrying water in Ethiopia. Photo by magnusfranklin via Flickr.
Last week, delegates from around the world met in Rome to help set the agenda for the 5th World Water Forum, which will be held in Istanbul this March. They talked about the effects of population pressure, increased energy demand, climate change, and agriculture on water supplies and quality, and the need to "rethink our ideas about the relationship between food, water, and the environment." Pretty standard fare, right? But Turkish environmental engineer Arzu Özyol has a more surprising relationship to add to the discussion list: that between water and gender.
According to Özyol, "It is women who have a more instinctive knowledge and experience in the management of the ecosystem, compared to men, but they have the smallest role in shaping environmental policies." In daily life, she explains, women are primarily responsible for water use--often bringing it into the household, then determining how much is used in cooking, cleaning, and doing the wash. In rural areas of Turkey and other countries, women often carry out much of the agricultural irrigation as well. Özyol sees this experience as an untapped source of knowledge on water management, both in individual households and at the political level.
It's not the first time women have been targeted as change-makers. Microfinance organizations have singled them out almost since the beginning as more likely to repay loans, and more likely to use their earnings to the benefit of their community. Likewise, women fulfilling traditional roles like cooking and taking care of children are more apt to notice, and be affected by, environmental problems such as poor water quality. Their experience, though, often goes unrepresented in policy-making, Özyol says, especially in more male-dominated societies like Turkey.
To remedy this, she suggests encouraging more women to go into environmental fields, increasing women's representation in decision-making roles, and educating a broader spectrum of women about water issues through nontraditional methods like soap operas--which have already proven successful in other countries at boosting awareness about population and family planning. "There is no need for a big rhetoric," Özyol says. "The message should be given to women that the more they are engaged in water management, the more they contribute to the economy of their households." And, of course, the more they contribute to a cleaner world for their children to grow up in. Via: "Women absent in water politics," Hürriyet Daily News
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