In parched cities, water brings women closer - Hindustan Times

In parched cities, water brings women closer

Apr 06, 2024 08:12 PM IST

Embracing innovative solutions to strengthen water quality testing, and embrace circular water economy principles can build resilience in water governance.

Bengaluru has been in the news recently for its water shortage due to poor urban planning and lack of proper governance. Rapid urbanisation intensifies the strain on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) systems, heightening vulnerabilities and inequalities within urban areas, especially in the slums. Water conservation expert, Diwan Singh, has warned that cities such as Jaipur, Delhi, Chennai, Bathinda and Mumbai could face the same magnitude of water crisis. As a scorching summer approaches, water management assumes great importance, especially for women.

Women protest against the Karnataka government over ongoing water crisis. (PTI) PREMIUM
Women protest against the Karnataka government over ongoing water crisis. (PTI)

Women suffer the most in such situations as fetching water is their responsibility. This cuts into time which could have been used for productive income generation. There is also a heavy burden in terms of health for women in rural areas forced to carry loads of water, sometimes up to 15 litres at a time. Arundati Muralidharan, co-founder, Menstrual Hygiene Alliance India says, “Research points to the negative health effects of carrying heavy loads on girls and women, such as back and knee pain, and, in extreme cases, pregnancy loss and uterine prolapse. Water access challenges may further place them at risk of violence. The linkages between water, sanitation and hygiene are profound for girls and women, owing to their biological needs and social-cultural contexts.”

But there are heartening examples of women taking matters into their own hands. A recent study in Jaipur revealed that communities with strong representation from women have not only secured safe water but also strengthened safe practices. Roshanara, a water committee member, Ward 147, Jaipur said that women face the brunt of water shortage. “Us and our children were badly affected and after a year of petitioning, we got a Bisalpur water connection. Today, we get two hours of supply and we store it properly. We reuse the water in multiple ways.”

Echoing this, Sharmila, a WASH sub-committee member, Bandla Basti, Jaipur, says, “Given the struggle we have faced to get water, we cherish every drop of water we collected. I have been living here for 24 years and in the beginning, we used to fetch water from a settlement. No one was willing to share the water with us. We would go from house to house and then carry a heavy pot back home. After my 20th year, we got the Bisalpur line and now get a good quantity of water. For this, we involved everyone. Together, we petitioned the government; and persisted with different decision-makers. Without this collective pressure, we would not have succeeded in getting the water connection.”

To enable the community to share their ways of dealing with many existential challenges and to bridge the gap between the community and the water and sanitation system. Jaipur Vaani, a mobile app-based radio was started by CFAR in 2022. With the support of over 300 volunteers, and 168 community persons, the Jaipur Vaani team recorded 6,207 grievances on inadequate water and sanitation services and this was relayed to the officials concerned of Jaipur Municipal Corporation. Of those actively recording their voices, 4,321 were women.

Given the many challenges, proactive measures are imperative to confront Jaipur’s intricate nexus of gender inequality, water insecurity, climate crisis, and governance challenges. Strengthening gender-responsive WASH programming, fostering community awareness, and promoting sustainable water management practices emerge as critical imperatives. Embracing innovative solutions to strengthen water quality testing, revitalise urban water bodies, and embrace circular water economy principles can build resilience and sustainability in water governance. There is a growing realisation among policy- and decision-makers that community involvement is essential and that women like Roshanara and Sharmila are not only helping the community but also the system to make change happen.

The views expressed are personal

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