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.