PREVIOUS STORIES, 15 April 2016

Women and Water Needs from Gender Perspective

Nandita Singh and Om Prakash Singh

 

 

 

Water needs are essentially gendered. While everyone, irrespective of gender and age, needs water for personal use - notably for drinking and hygiene, many of the more than 586 million women in India also need water for diverse domestic, productive and other uses. Women being primarily responsible for the domestic arena, a majority of them require water for fulfilling their gender-based domestic roles. As ‘domestic water managers’, they procure drinking water for their families and use it for food preparation. They further often need water for securing health and hygiene of their children and other dependents, including the old and sick. Related common tasks include bathing of children, washing of clothes, cleaning of utensils and of domestic premises. Many women also require water beyond the domestic arena for carrying out gender-based productive roles. These may include small-scale kitchen gardening for home consumption as well as large-scale agricultural operations where women may be responsible as owner-farmers or engaged as laborers. As many as 24 million women are cultivators and about another 41 million women are agricultural laborers according to the 2011 Census of India. In many places, women are also responsible for keeping livestock for whom they require water. Other examples include women in fishing sector wheer at the smaller scale in fishing communities they catch fish for family consumption or sale in the market. They also play an important role in the fishing industry in different fish processing & related activities. According to official figures, about 5 million women depend upon this sector for a livelihood. Finally, while all the above water needs may be seen as ‘secular’ in nature, being connected to their own and their families’ daily basic existence, women also need water for fulfilling roles in the ‘sacred’ sphere. This set of needs pertains to performance of functions in the religious and spiritual arena. Thus water may be needed for purifying themselves and their belongings before performing religious and spiritual acts as well as for offering to deities. On the whole, it may be said that the gendered water needs of Indian women are multifarious and holistic, touching upon almost every aspect of their lives. The challenge lies in ensuring sufficient, reliable and qualitatively appropriate water on a day-to-day basis for fulfilling these diverse needs so that the human rights of women and their dependents to water, food, health and development can be secured. This photo story presents glimpses of the various water needs of women in India. The title photograph depicts a lady bathing her buffalo in Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra.

 

 

Taking water for drinking and domestic purposes - Khunti district, Jharkhand

 

As domestic water managers women procure water for drinking and cooking for themselves and their families from diverse sources. According to Census of 2011, about 30% population in the country has access to piped water which may or may not be located on premises. Rest of the population is dependent upon other sources such as wells and handpumps, with as many as 8% still depending on unimproved and surface water sources such as ponds and rivers. In many cases, the water source may be actually quite distant making the task of water procurement by women arduous. In some areas, during the dry summer months this may become an additional burden when the nearby water sources start drying up. In addition, quality of the water procured may be questionable. Tap water may not necessarily be treated and groundwater may contain high coliform and other microbial contamination. Thus, women may be unable to procure water for themselves and their families which is safe on biological parameters. Their role is further threatened by the problem of chemical contamination in many areas. The groundwater in as many as 19 states in the country is known to contain fluoride beyond permissible limits while that in seven states is known to be poisoned with arsenic which is carcinogenic. Fluoride and arsenic mitigation options have so far failed to be effectively implemented, posing a huge health challenge in a context where dependence on groundwater-based sources is more than 50%. In addition, water pollution from industrial and municipal sewage further increases the quality deterioration in several areas. All these factors ultimately jeopardize the effective fulfilment of the domestic water management role by women.

 

 

Procuring drinking water - Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra

 

 

Kneading dough in Bhojpur district, Bihar

 

 

East Siyang district, Arunachal Pradesh

 

Regarding water for other domestic uses such as cleaning and washing, availability of adequate quantity of water is essential. In many areas of the country, water availability itself – whether surface or groundwater – can pose a challenge especially in the dry season, thwarting these domestic roles of women, in turn having adverse health implications for themselves and their families.

 

 

Cleaning and sanitizing mud hearth in Bhojpur district, Bihar

 

 

Secunderabad, Telangana

 

 

Bhojpur district, Bihar

 

Personal sanitation and hygiene can be enjoyed only when adequate water is available. Toilets have been provided under different governmental and non-governmental interventions in many parts of the country to facilitate women and children with access to safe sanitation. However, in many cases, water is not available within the premises and has to be transported from a distance by women if they or their children should use the toilets. This acts as a disincentive against regular use of toilets by women even when the infrastructure is available at home. Similarly, regular bathing requires water adequacy and in areas or periods of water stress, maintenance of personal hygiene by women themselves and their families can become a real challenge.

 

 

Mumbai, Maharashtra

 

 

Bhojpur district, Bihar

 

 

Transplanting paddy in Nagaon district, Assam

 

Water is a central resource for agriculture. For women farmers engaged in rainfed agriculture, adequate and timely rainfall is essential for a good crop yield, but in areas dependent on irrigation, other factors may play a determining role. In case of groundwater-based irrigation, access to water can pose a challenge if adequate financial resources for meeting the necessary costs of pumping are not available. In canal irrigation schemes, access to canal water may become a difficulty for women farmers because of absence of land ownership in their names, since membership of water user associations is often restricted to the land owners.

 

 

Watering kitchen garden in Bhojpur district, Bihar

 

Kitchen gardens are a good source for improving the nutritional status of women and children. However, raising kitchen gardens by women requires irrigation for which adequate water is needed. For this reason, this role of women may be hampered in areas where water sources are distant or when water becomes scarce especially during dry seasons.

 

 

Women's water need for animal husbandry - Bikaner district, Rajasthan

 

For women involved in animal husbandry, water availability for the animals is essential. In the event of water scarcity during dry seasons, this role can be adversely affected. Similarly, in areas that are drought-prone without effective water management practices, lack of green water can lead to barren lands without green cover, further thwarting this important role of women that can otherwise contribute effectively to their economic development and well-being.

 

 

A Yanadi woman with her fish catch from a local canal in Nellore district, Andhra Pradesh

 

Similarly, in the fishing communities, women may be actively engaged in catching fish either for the market or for the family. If the water resources supporting fish populations dry up due to natural or human causes, this important role of women can be thwarted.

 

 

Offering water to deities at Sangam - the confluence of rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati - at Prayag (Allahabad), Uttar Pradesh

 

The role of women in the sacred sphere often occupies a central role in the societal and family contexts, and this is intricately dependent on water. However, in many places, women are thwarted in performing this role because the sacred water sources are getting depleted in terms of quantity or degraded in terms of quality.

 

Fulfilment of the diverse water needs of women in India is essential for facilitating the performance of their multifarious domestic, productive and other gender roles in family and society. This in turn requires availability of water in adequate quantity and appropriate quality. For addressing the several challenges confronting the water resources in India and the resultant impact on women, there is need for sustainable water resources management involving their effective participation. This will enable women, their children and other dependents to enjoy their human rights to water and sanitation, food, health, and overall development today and through the future generations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh