Access to safe water and sanitation has been recognised as both a human right under international law and an important objective for the international community through its inclusion in the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Equitable access to water contributes to the achievement of key objectives, including gender equality, climate resilience, and peace and security.
In order to ensure access to water and sanitation for all, discussions and decisions on the safeguarding and management of water resources must be inclusive and representative. For LM International, this means working from a bottom-up approach and acknowledging that women have differentiated knowledge that is vital to sustainable resource management, as well as differing responsibilities, priorities, and needs around water use and management.
The Global Water Crisis
Water related challenges constitute some of the biggest challenges the world is facing today, with over two billion people lacking access to safely managed drinking water at home. Yet, the global water crisis is not gender neutral, and women and girls are disproportionately impacted by water and sanitation shortages. Supporting this, UN data reveals that in 80 percent of households lacking in-home water access, women and girls bear the primary responsibility for water collection. The long distances they travel to collect water often keeps them out of school and exposes them to an increased risk of sexual violence.
A significant challenge to the equitable and sustainable management of water resources is the fact that many water resources are shared between communities and countries, with over two billion people relying on groundwater sources from transboundary aquifers and an estimated 40 percent of the world’s population depending on transboundary river basins. Moreover, with UNICEF predicting that half of the world’s population could be living in areas facing water scarcity by as early as 2025, climate change may contribute to increased competition for, and conflict over, shared water resources.
Recognising these challenges, water diplomacy, defined as cooperation over the management and safeguarding of shared water resources, has the potential to contribute to equitable, peaceful and sustainable solutions. However, in order to be effective, water diplomacy must be inclusive, and persistent barriers to women’s participation must be addressed.
Supporting Inclusive Water Diplomacy
LM International strives to promote gender equality at all levels of water diplomacy. At a local level, this includes working from the understanding that water serves many purposes and must be managed in an integrated manner as well as the establishment of Water Management Committees, with representatives from diverse tribes and genders, to direct and oversee our water and sanitation projects. When included in water diplomacy processes, women can actively help ensure that priorities of women and children are actually captured in daily service delivery, and that changes in service provision and resource access to not negatively affect women and children in the communities they serve. This can make water projects up to 6 or 7 times more effective.
Operating in countries impacted by both climate change and armed conflict, including Sudan, South Sudan, Niger and Chad, we recognise that inclusive local water diplomacy plays a central role in the promotion of both climate resilience as well as peace and security. For example, women hold unique knowledge and experiences around water that often proves key in climate adaptation strategies. Likewise, making up nearly half of the global agricultural labour force, women’s participation in water diplomacy processes can contribute to increased conservation efforts as well as food security.
Furthermore, by creating spaces for dialogue and negotiation on the management of shared water resources, our water and sanitation projects have contributed to improved relations between several communities, including the Falat and Masaleet ethnic groups in Gereida, southern Darfur in Sudan. Bottom-up, community-led initiatives are imperative to promoting social cohesion and, in this context, cultural and religious leaders have a central role to play.
At a more global level, LM International is a strategic partner to the Women in Water Diplomacy Network, which aims to promote women’s leadership in high level decision making in transboundary water basins. We recently supported the Network’s engagements at World Water Week 2022, including the convention of the first ever Global Network Forum, which brought together more than 70 participants from across the world to catalyse collective actions on inclusive water diplomacy, as well as the launch of the Network’s Global Strategy – ’A Path Forward for Women, Water, Peace and Security’. Acting as a roadmap for the advancement of the Network’s mission and objectives, the strategy paves the way for meaningful change at a time when urgent political and environmental change is needed.
The global water crisis is not gender neutral, and women and girls are both disproportionately impacted by water and sanitation shortages and under-represented in discussions and decisions on the management of water resources. In order to contribute to the realisation of human rights, as well as the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, we must continue to advocate for the participation, and leadership, of women in water diplomacy. Indeed, transformative change requires collective action.
LM International is a Swedish non-profit foundation that has, since 1958, worked to eradicate poverty and build long-term development and peace. Guided by their overall vision Dignified Life-Sustainable World, LM International works along four thematic focus areas, namely: (1) social and economic inclusion, (2) health, (3) education, and (4) water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). LM International is present in 25 countries, including across Africa, Latin America, Eastern European and the MENA region, and employs close to 300 people globally. We drive Swedish priorities in line with the Grand Bargain, the Triple Nexus, the grand, green and digital transformation and feminist foreign policy.