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Women and Water


About a year ago, I was working on a project to re-image some of the materials used by my previous employer. At the time, I was working for a non-profit focusing on global women's leadership advocacy and was told to find a high-resolution image of a woman who resembled one of the rising women leaders who were in our organization's global network. I browsed all the major stock photo websites with the words "woman". To no surprise, the search results consisted of hundreds of photos of smiling western women engaged in various activities. I tried again by entering the words "women, international", a search that ended with a handful of photos mostly depicting high-level international women leaders at global conferences. My search continued with a slew of adjectives I thought might describe the woman who would be representative of our network... "strong, leader, influential, professional, etc". I could see the woman's face who would accurately portray the dedicated, innovative, fierce woman leader whose strong, gracious and dignified eyes penetrated the picture to demonstrate her tireless efforts to improve her community, her world. I had seen many of these women in my experience working with this NGO. After limited success, however, I realized that I had to embody the search engine and think as it thought. I was forced to try another maneuver and cringed as I typed the words "woman, exotic". The search engine churned out photo upon photo. My eyes scanned the search results and I was overcome with the observation of one common variable- women carrying water. At the time, I did not digest the full implications of these images but in recent past this memory has struck me.

A year ago, if someone asked me whether I viewed water resources management/water and sanitation/water and sustainability as a "women's issue", I would have had to hesitate. Why?

In the past when I read articles or heard news stories about water, I most often contextualized this issue within poverty alleviation/human rights OR with environmental preservation. I was exposed to news of unsanitary water threatening the lives of children in various regions around the world or US state legislatures campaigning against waste disposal methods that were affecting vegetation in local bodies of water. Never in my exposure, however, do I recall a direct link between women and water.

So why hesitate? Although the link had never been presented to me directly in school, newspapers and educational programs, I am quite positive I would have known right away there was a link. Although I am sure that some portion of my response to this question would have been intellectual, I realize now that a large degree of my response would have been instinctual. Why?

Because in many ways, women and their children have become the face of this issue- regardless of whether their roles have been recognized or their needs addressed, the image of women and children fetching and carrying water are pervasive.

So my question to the PulseWire community is this...

How were you introduced to the issues surrounding water, water and sanitation, water resources management and water and sustainability? Did your exposure consist of an environmental or social context, or both?

Have you witnessed this image of women carrying water? How do water and women intersect in the economic, political, and social sectors? Do you think women's needs are being adequately addressed when it comes to water resources management and water and sanitation?

I would love to hear your thoughts and continue discussion.


Goldie Davich's picture

carry water

I don't really know anything about "women's water issues".

I only know about water and land use from my 3rd generation BLM (Bureau of Land Management) family. My grandfather who is 79 just planted a tree with a water catcher around it. Apparently in Idaho there are a lot of cottonwood trees dying because the ditches and canals they grow along are all dried up. The ditches are dried up because irrigation practices have (something about sprinklers..) changed So the trees die and then the birds of prey do not have a place to live.

Anyway, this post is a wake up call for me. Who knew the environment was a women's issue?!?!?! I read about it in the Pulsewire mission statement of something.

Honestly, I look forward to learning more about this topic!

Corine Milano's picture

I'm still a bit ashamed to

I'm still a bit ashamed to admit that when I first heard that water sustainability was a focus of PW's beta phase, the connection wasn't immediate to me. There is still such a huge lack of information in regards to the interconnectedness of gender and water.

I majored in Women and Gender Studies and pride myself on my knowledge of oppressions and global issues, yet, this issue was never talked about and I never made the connection aside from peripherally. If water issues were brought up, they weren't talked about in terms of gender.

In retrospect, it is so obvious and the links are completely undeniable. I'm so happy that PW decided to focus on this issue right from the start, and I'm looking forward to following along as more information and resources emerge.

Thanks for your post, Alyson!

Alyson's picture

Link to a very breif overview

I just wanted to post a link to "Women and Water Privatization" By Ana Elena Obando. Its is only a page long but it addresses gender specific issues posed buy water and sanitation practices around the world. This is old (November 2003) but a concise overview and includes links at the bottom.

I am working on a list of books/papers thay may be informative- I will plan to share it in case you all are interested.

Corine Milano's picture

definitely interested! thank

definitely interested! thank you!

Alyson - it might be interesting to take a look at the following website: It summarizes a number of publications on water and gender.

Jensine's picture

My Experience too...

Alyson -

Your experience struck a chord with me too. Having spent so much time on sites over the years searching for "global women" - only to find hundreds of women in business suit mini-skirts posing in front of globes, or sitting at glass desks in high rises .... Whoa!! Such a strange reality photo-stock land.

Thanks for striking up such a rich thread. I'm so thrilled to be with you on PulseWire and impressed by your passion to make such a difference in the world.

with respect,

Jensine Larsen
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