Women rights abuse: Women leaders blame poor access to water and sanitation facilities

Without access to clean water, there is no gender equality. This is the message from women representatives of UN Member States and civil society organizations gathered in New York at the sidelines of the 63rd Session on the Commission on the Status of Women.

They say that majority of rural women do not have the right to access to clean water and that generally it is women who have to walk miles looking for water.

In her presentation, Wednesday, on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), a parliamentarian’s perspective in strengthening gender equality, Jacquiline Amongin, noted that rural women are highly vulnerable due to social prejudices that deny them their human right to access water.

“Women are subjected to discrimination, sexual and physical violence due to WASH related factors especially when they walk long distances looking for water,” Amongin said adding that “women fail to relate to their domestic chores effectively because they are overwhelmed with long distance water points.”

Amongin told the delegates that as a way of addressing these challenges, in 2012, the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Water and Sanitation (UPF-WASH) was formed to raise awareness and advocate for water and sanitation related aspects.

To this end she said, the Forum has influenced budgetary allocations to the district water and sanitation conditional grant to address the needs of women and girls.

Amongin explained that there is a strong linkage between access to water, sanitation and hygiene, and gender equality; and that focus should therefore be put on promotion of gender equality and women empowerment by ensuring convenient access to water and sanitation facilities.

While giving her country experience, Immaculata Raphael, the Head National Water Sanitation Development Programme in Tanzania, explained that access to WASH and healthcare facilities leads to better health outcomes for women and children, adding that when women are healthier they have more opportunities to invest time into income generating activities.

Experiences from Colombia, Zambia and Niger demonstrated to the idea that access to water, sanitation and hygiene was a pathway to gender equality.

Alex Ndeezi, a Member of Parliament from Uganda representing persons with disabilities, was quick to note that water and sanitation related aspects had not been given the due attention it needed during the ongoing women’s conference.

“The main programme of this year’s session on the Commission on the Status of Women does not adequately capture water, sanitation and related issues and yet we believe that without promoting WASH issues, it is impossible to attain gender equity. It is also impossible to enhance welfare of women, especially rural women, if access to water is not a priority,” Ndeezi said.

The legislator recommended that the next session on the Commission of the Status of Women should prioritise access to water and sanitation in its agenda.

The 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, taking place at the UN headquarters in New York, has been meeting under the theme, social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.