Women Water Forum
Organized under the High-Level International Conference on International Decade for Action “Water and Sustainable Development”
19 June 2018
Opening Remarks by
Dr. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator in Tajikistan
Excellency, Ms. Khairinisso Yusufi, Deputy Chirperson of Majlisi Oli of Republic of Tajikistan
HRH Princess Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite, Founder President of Women in Science International League and Executive Director of the Royal Academy of Science International Trust
Honorable Ms. Malina Kroumova, Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Public Works, Bulgaria
Ms. El-Alisayir, UN Women Regional Director ad interim
It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to the Women Water Forum, being held at the outset of the High Level International Conference on the international Decade for Water for Sustainable Development organized by the government of Tajikistan in collaboration with the UN to discuss implementation SDG6 and the General Assembly resolution adopted in December 2016 establishing 2018 – 2028 as the decade of water for sustainable development.
While action on MDGs and the previous water decade from 2005-2015 made significant contribution in improving water and sanitation situation in the world, we still have a long way to go. More than 750 million people still lack access to safe water and nearly 840,000 people die every year from diseases directly caused by unsafe water, sanitation and poor hygiene practices. Safe water is fundamental for public health and human development and especially for women and girls, safe water and sanitation also contribute to gender equality and life of dignity. For these reasons, in 2010, the UN General Assembly recognized safe water and sanitation as Human Rights and later in 2015, adopted Agenda2030 with a stand-alone SDG6 on water and sanitation which includes gender targets. However, the connection between water, sanitation and gender is not obvious to many people and even to decision makers. Hence this Women Water Forum is very important to highlight evidence of unique gender dimensions and special needs of women in achieving universal coverage of water and sanitation and the principle of leaving no one behind in sustainable development.
Lack of safe water and sanitation not just affects health and well- being of women and girls but also their dignity and ability to be educated and economically active. For example, in developing countries, women and girls are the primary water collectors and, on an average, have to walk for about 3 hours per day to haul enough water for drinking, cooking, washing and basic hygiene for a family of 5- 6 persons. The daily burden and time spent in collecting water denies women the opportunity to earn a living or to fulfill their potential in professional arena and engage in more productive work. Moreover, carrying heavy pots of water on their hips, back or on their head affects women physically, including in pelvic deformities which can result in child birth problems.
Lack of water compounded by lack of sanitation and hygiene practices have even more far reaching impact on women and girls. Just like women spend hours to collect water, they must also spend hours to walk to a safe spot in open fields to urinate of defecate. Not only that, many women and girls must wait till dawn or sunset to use darkness as to shield their dignity but putting themselves at grave risk of assault, sexual harassment and even animal attack. Very often they do not drink enough water to avoid the long walk or to wait for the dark hours. It’s very hard to believe that men, who force women to cover their faces and do not allow them to leave home, because of family honor, would have no problem letting their girls and women address the call of nature in stark public glare. But unfortunately, it a very common practice in so many villages, slums and low - income areas in many developing countries.
It’s not just homes, globally, 1/3 of all schools also lack access to safe water and sanitation, forcing many girls to drop out of school during puberty because of lack of separate toilets, hand washing and sanitary napkin disposal facility. Similarly, many work places, including government offices, markets or public places do not have separate toilets for women. Just imagine if there was no separate toilet for women in this hotel, where would you go to relieve yourselves? Perhaps you would wait outside the unisex toilet but what if someone is menstruating? Would you have come to attend this Forum if there was no Ladies toilet here? It’s hard to believe that builders, architects and contractors would not be sensitive to such a basic need of women, but sadly it is not uncommon. Lack of safe sanitation and privacy not only attacks the very dignity of women but also restricts their mobility and participation in economic activity and public affairs.
There are plenty of studies showing that for every $one invested in water and sanitation, an average of at least $4 is returned in increased productivity; that investment in water and sanitation can drastically reduce malnutrition, child and maternal mortality and save people from dying of diseases caused by unsafe water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene. Moreover, studies also indicate that having a water source within 10 minutes of walking distance from home increases girls school attendance by 12% and women’s participation in workforce.
Women cannot take it for granted that common sense will prevail. We need to all work together to sensitize all those in position of authority whether at home, school, government, private sector or at commercial places that lack of safe water and sanitation affects women and girls differently than men, hence women must themselves be directly involved in planning and management of services, they should have equal voice in the decision making processes at community and national level on financing, on the location of water and sanitation infrastructure, in policy formulation and setting building codes and in innovations and social start-ups to promote easy to haul water technologies; safe sanitation and menstrual hygiene practices.
Your active participation today in this Women Water Forum and in the main high level international conference on water is extremely essential to highlight issues with evidence, compelling field experiences and specific messages. I hope that men will also champion for positive change, after all, your lives are intrinsically linked to the health, well-being, safety and productivity of your mothers, sisters, wives and daughters.
I wish you all a very productive Forum.