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Involving women in water management key to sustainable development — experts

By Hana Namrouqa - Mar 27,2016 - Last updated at Mar 27,2016

ISTANBUL — Women involvement in water demand management must be enhanced in the region to achieve sustainable development, according to experts and activists on water and gender.

More emphasis should be placed on women's role in light of an increasing influx of refugees that has placed further burdens on the women managing water at households in host countries and refugee camps, the experts said at a two-day conference on women, water and peace in Istanbul between March 18 and 19 .

Although women are the core users and managers of water at households and most often it is their responsibility to procure drinking water for the family, policymakers leave women out of the decision-making process, the experts, from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, underlined.

Water demand management in the region cannot achieve its goals of sustainable development and fair distribution unless women are empowered to make decisions related to water management at the domestic level, experts said at the conference.

Co-hosted by the Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) and the MEF University in cooperation with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the conference brought together over 50 policymakers, experts, entrepreneurs, scholars and media representatives to discuss linkages between women, water and peace, as part of the Blue Peace Initiative.

The participants said girls are often made to walk long distances to obtain drinking water for their families at households where water is not supplied via pipelines, while at refugee camps, women are also responsible for fetching water from distribution points.

"This is particularly important in light of the fact that almost half of the refugees in the Middle East are women, while about 25 per cent of these women refugees are under 18 years of age…; in the Middle East, women are also often the managers of agricultural water since a large number of women work on farms," SFG said in its report on the conference.

Senior Gender Adviser at SIDA Ulrika Holmstrom said that in the context of water and peace, there is a strong need to stress the rights of women to participate meaningfully in policymaking and peace agreements, underscoring that women must be represented in peace negotiations because there are strong links between sustainable peace and the inclusion of women.

Increasing women’s representation in governance, peace-building efforts and core economic institutions is vital, Holmstrom said, calling for achieving higher women representation in the water sector and better  access to resources.

Maysoon Zu’bi, a member of the Blue Peace core group and former secretary general of the Water Ministry, said women remain secluded from the decision-making process in water demand management, highlighting that policies and decisions on water sharing, allocation and distribution among users disregard them.

She stressed that increasing women participation in water management and ensuring a higher representation for them in the sector can achieve water use efficiency.

The conference also featured a presentation on institutional cooperation in the Nile River Basin.

Nile Basin Initiative Executive Director John Rao Nyaoro said successful trans-boundary cooperation depends on the existence of three critical factors — an institutional infrastructure for cooperation, stakeholder dialogues at multiple levels, and the personal commitment of heads of states and governments. 

Nyaoro said the involvement of heads of states is the beginning for finding a solution; however, once they provide a political direction for bargains between riparian countries, it is the task of the technical teams to translate visions into reality.

 

The Blue Peace Initiative seeks to develop shared water resources and turn water from a potential tool of war into a means to achieving regional peace.

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