Women and Water: The Women for Water Partnership

The ties between women and water are numerous.  While only some are recognized by mainstream culture or activism, the ways in which women are tied to water are often used as ways to promote the adoption of sustainable water practices.  As gathering, storing, and using water takes up the majority of the day for many women throughout the developing world, they have been put at the forefront of community-driven campaigns for clean water.

While some place women at the forefront of this campaign because water is seen as a domestic issue and therefore a women’s issue, there is much more to the connection between women and water than that.  In some places, women (and children) can spend up to 8 hours a day walking many miles to a clean water source.  Often, this water source is so far away because of effects of climate change, environmental degradation, or the privatization of water.  This can go unnoticed by local authorities because it is seen as a part of the everyday tasks of women.  The impacts and implications of actions taken by governments and by large corporations go unnoticed by those not directly affected by it. Women take notice.

The Women for Water Partnership takes notice.  Based in The Netherlands, the partnership works with women’s organization all over the world – Africa, Europe, South America, Central America and the Caribbean, Asia, and the Middle East.  They work to bridge the gaps between the foreign policy solutions to water management and the on-the-ground women who are expected to carry out those solutions in their day-to-day lives.  Through this work, the Women for Water Partnership also works to empower women to take leadership roles in their communities, especially in regards to water issues in the community. The Partnership works with communities not only to ensure safe drinking water for families but also to educate people about the importance of water conservation.

What is important to note about this organization is that it works as a network of women and water organizations.  The groups doing the work are local organizations working with local people rather than a UN based task force sent in to educate the native peoples about their own water situations without understanding the culture, community structure, or region-specific issues related to water.  The scarcity of water in Uzbekistan is not the same issue as the securing of clean water in India – each region has different issues to face and solutions to create that are dependent on the culture and people of each region.

Charles Kennel discusses the importance of looking at each nation’s issues individually, in a region by region basis, and James Speth and Peter Haas in their book Global Environmental Governance build on that by likening environmental policies (in this case, women and water activism) to jazz. There can be no one model that can be reproduced over and over again, but rather there must be room to improvise and experiment with the methods to find what works best for that nation.

This is what is important when it comes to looking at organizations that work with putting women in charge of water solutions – one method does not work in every instance, in every country.  There must be room for experimentation and discussion among the numerous organizations working in this area.  A network of organizations that can discuss what has worked well and what was not helpful to people in that area is beneficial to finding the best ways to work with women and water – and that network should be made up of people who are a part of the community, not outsiders coming in to help or to preach the best way of doing something.

While a network of communities that reaches around the globe may work towards the good, it can only do so if that network has roots in the communities themselves.  Women have long been oppressed by others, and women of the developing world who are working to create and develop sustainable communities do not need to be oppressed by a colonialist ideology, regardless of its intentions. The parallels between the misuse of water resources and the oppression of women in communities are many, and tie women to water in ways beyond the fact that both are necessary for giving life, or the idea that there is an inherent quality of care-giving and nurturing present in both women and water.  Women are tied to water because both have been exploited and oppressed. Networks such as the Women for Water Partnership are helping to give voice to both women’s empowerment and the scarcity of water resources.


(Image Credit: Women for Water Partnership)