Feminist Approach to Water Justice in Africa
Last month, the Urgent Action Fund-Africa (UAF-Africa) launched its Water Justice Report titled “Womn and Water in Africa: An Overview of Water Justice Struggles.” UAF-Africa deliberately uses ‘womn’ instead of ‘women,’ and this will be the case in this article.
The launch of UAF-Africa report was part of a year-long campaign on water availability for women in Africa. Several womn activists and human rights defenders were on hand to share their views on water justice on the continent at the launch of the highly anticipated report.
According to UAF-Africa Board Chairperson Njoki Njehu, “Water is not only health but dignity for womn and girls in Africa.” In a similar manner, Executive Director of the Lokiaka Community Development Center, Nigeria, Martha Agbani shared her thoughts thus: “Water is my life, my identity, my livelihood. I cannot live without water. Girls miss school when there is no water and school doesn’t stop which means they lose out on education.”
In her comments, Gender Equality and Equity Advocate and Founder of Patinaai Osim, Semerian Sankori, noted that “People with disabilities are often disenfranchised in accessing clean water especially young women and girls at schools,” while Researcher Stha Yeni argued that “Water Justice is about water governance, accessibility, and affordability as well as context.”
Why is the water campaign important?
The discourse on water is crucial as water access, affordability and management has proven to be an intersectional issue, undercutting food security, health, sanitation, safety, economic wellness, housing and climate change. Womn are at the receiving end of the political, economic and environmental undercurrents tied to water access and control.
As such, the report responds to the following questions: what are the root causes of water scarcity? What are the approaches employed by organizations to solve the problem? What is water justice and why is it a feminist issue? What has been the impact of Covid-19 on African womn?
Water justice interrogates the current approaches of control, distribution, access and management of water. It is embedded in historical and socio-cultural contexts. It also interrogates gender perspectives and imbalances, acknowledging that the impact of water scarcity on womn by far overwhelms that of men.
UAF-Africa believes that a feminist water justice campaign would best complement the efforts by states and international organisations at resolving the challenges in Africa because it is focused on local practices and the needs of ordinary people keeping in focus the gender dynamics.
Water justice advocates for development and apolitical approaches to water struggles through analyzing the root causes of womn water struggles as a social injustice. Time is therefore rife for a robust engagement, conversations and debates on critical feminist analysis of African womn water struggles.
The life of an African womn revolves around water. The burden of home keeping, care giving roles, physiological make up, farm work and her reproduction roles etc, entails using water in large scale. Irrespective of the indispensability of water, about 40 percent of the population of people living in Africa South of the Sahara lack access to clean and adequate water supply. Water therefore should be considered a human right and social issue, and not an economic issue and any imposition on supply and restrictions to access is a violation of the human rights of the African womn.
The report comparatively reviewed the neoliberal approach of water privatization and the feminist approach. It concluded that the neoliberal approach denigrates the capacity of African States to effectively resolve water scarcity; excuses State’s lack of political will and commitment to provide water to the entire population; and gives room for manipulation of water resources for economic gains by private water companies to the detriment of the larger populace.
Feminist approach insists that this neoliberal tactic is merely playing politics with water. It is opposed to this method because water privatization would create more inequality in an already unequal society. Because it views access and availability of clean water as a human right, it opines that the universality of human right places a burden on governments to ensure equal access to water irrespective of social status. Privatization of water makes class the chief determinant of quality of access and enjoyment of water as a human right.
It can also be argued that privatization of water based on the neoliberal approach undermines the UN Sustainable Development Goal number six which requires States to effectively provide access to clean, safe affordable drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene by 2030 for all. Turning water into a commercial commodity will adversely affect womn’s collective health, social and financial wellbeing. The gender dimension to water scarcity is typified by the heightened hardship from water scarcity due to Covid 19 pandemic. Not only did it promote violence against womn in homes, it also exposed women to untold hardship from water scarcity because the economic means for purchase and enjoyment of water was lacking.
Additionally, accessing water from alternative sources (standpipe systems, rivers etc) places many womn at danger of sexual and other forms of violence as they go to isolated streams to fetch water for their households. The requirement of sanitation as a means of mitigating COVID-19 is grossly vitiated by unavailability of water. Womn witnessed rising infection due to poor sanitation. This further affected their sexual and reproductive health which depend largely on availability of clean water.
The report argues that the way forward for water justice in Africa remains the adoption of the feminist approach. The current water practice has occasioned several water rights violations because privatization makes water a tussle between the need of people vs the interests of investors. The results of this power tussle are polluted rivers, high cost of water, waste of water resources by the rich and increase in the rate of water borne diseases in slums and densely populated urban areas.
Through this report, UAF-Africa intends to continue to play a huge role in highlighting these water issues through research and support for water justice campaigns that focuses on strengthening grassroots mobilization and feminist movement-building.
To read the full report, click here: https://uaf-africa.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/UAF-AFRICA-WOMN-AND-WATER-JUSTICE-STRUGGLES-REPORT.pdf