Sustainable development goal #6 (SDG-6) of the UN which aims at providing “clean water and sanitation for all” can ensure amelioration of women’s status. A greater participation of women and their knowledge enhancement is necessary for achieving this goal.
More than 780 million people – about 11% of the world’s population – do not have access to clean, safe water, according to the specialist UN body, World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) of the UN, that is focused on ‘clean water and sanitation for all’, aims to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, as established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. Women and girls are central to this goal.
The access to adequate clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) have been recognised as a fundamental human right by the United Nations General Assembly. However, as these goals become more difficult to attain with the impending climate crisis, it is the poorest and the vulnerable, especially women and children, who are impacted the most.
Across the world, especially in rural and poor communities, women have been responsible for the management of resources and energy at a micro level. In India, women are socially prescribed the responsibility for running households and providing food and water for their families. These domestic responsibilities include the procurement and utilisation of water, a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce. With the dwindling access to water, these responsibilities have become even more taxing and precarious, prompting women to carry heavier loads for longer distances often compromising their health and safety.
Female students often drop out of schools to help with the domestic water responsibilities which have become insurmountable in recent years. Another contributing factor that is accelerating female dropout rates is the inaccessibility to clean water and other facilities like washrooms in schools. This makes it difficult for them to sustain attending classes during their menstruation period, prompting them to drop out.
The inaccessibility to clean water and sanitation affects women and children disproportionately, making them important stakeholders in the mission to provide clean water and sanitation to all. Women have a higher influence in solving the water crisis. A UNICEF study conducted in India in 2013 reported that when trained and educated about the importance of water management, women teach their children and families the importance of the same. Since at a micro level, women are responsible for the procurement and usage of water across households, it is imperative to involve them in this journey to enable any sustainable headway against the climate crisis, especially in water management. Collecting water requires considerable time and effort, which perhaps does not leave women with the time or energy to gain education or earn a livelihood, they are thus stuck in poverty. The restricted access to water is increasing gender inequality in terms of financial independence and education. The lack of access to clean bathrooms and sanitation also disproportionately puts women and girls at the risk of disease and infections. If girls are empowered at a young age with education, it will lead to financial independence, right attitude, and decision-making capabilities. Women will play a crucial role in planning, development, and implementation of sustainable practices in not just homes but also at workplaces, educational institutes and in communities.
There is a strong interlinkage between SDG 6 – ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of Clean Water and Sanitation for all’ and SDG 5 – ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’. Educating women, employing women, and increasing awareness about water conservation and the climate crisis will help emancipate women stuck in cycles of poverty. As evident from many examples like the ‘Jal Saheli’, an NGO led by women, that has constructed over 56 lakes and over 450 check dams in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh – regions that have often been plagued by droughts – participation of women can bring about a positive spiraling change.
Women today represent a significant part of the stakeholders involved in the everyday use of water and its management. They have been playing a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water. It is imperative to provide education and awareness to women across developing nations. The need for gender equality is not just limited to bringing more women into the workforce, but to also drive social and environmental impact.