The Dynamic Role of Gender and Social Inclusion: Achieving Internationally Agreed Water-Related Goals.

Author:Narula, Meena


Water carries political, cultural, religious, social, economic and environmental significance in our lives. Access to safe drinking water and sanitation has far-reaching consequences for achieving equality and creating an inclusive society. When government policies and programmes focus upon the well-being of the socially excluded and vulnerable--especially women and children--they become instrumental in bringing about necessary changes and addressing the most formidable challenges. Combined with thoughtfully designed regulatory and environmental frameworks, policies and programmes are the key drivers for engaging people, which allows them to understand problems and be part of the solution. People then become the force to holistically contribute to improving their own circumstances. Civil society organizations and the private sector--when keeping sight of the principles of participation, equity and transparency-become the most capable facilitators in the improved and sustainable management of water--a resource so vital to human life.


The world's need for food and energy is directly proportional to the growing global population, estimated at 7.6 billion in 2017. (1) Agriculture accounts for almost 70 per cent of total freshwater withdrawals globally. (2) As per 2015 estimates, the world energy demand will grow by as much as 20 per cent by 2035, with water consumption required for energy generation and production expected to increase by 85 per cent. (3) Water crises rank fifth on the list of global risks (4) and pose especially acute challenges and implications for women and other vulnerable and excluded populations.

* Globally, only 16 per cent of the national water resource plans mention women as primary participants in climate adaptation.

* India ranks 148th among 193 countries in terms of representation of women in government and parliament. In regard to local leadership, women constitute 46 per cent of representatives in the Panchayati Raj Institutions.

* Collectively, women spend 200 million hours each day fetching water (5) and those without a toilet spend over 97 billion hours each year searching for a place to defecate. (6)

* In India, on average, a woman traverses 8,700 miles a year to fetch water, (7) carrying over 88 pounds of water daily to meet her family's needs. (8)

* As per research conducted in Bhopal, India, 94 per cent of women interviewed said they had faced violence or harassment when going out to defecate, and more than one third had been physically assaulted.


The twentieth century witnessed rapid development of transboundary water resources. Major dams, irrigation canals and water diversion facilities have been built through uncoordinated and unilateral water development projects. The implications are the decline in water availability to some populations, resulting in limited water supplies for agriculture and human use. As per available estimates, water consumption has increased at twice the rate of population growth, requiring the development and implementation of a new paradigm for water planning and use, especially for equitable socioeconomic development and accessibility.


Climate change, coupled with population growth and urbanization, poses major challenges for water supply systems. It is estimated that over the next 10 years, climate change and resulting weather extremes will affect around 175 million children a year. We need to increase equitable access to sustainable water sources and improved sanitation, so that in times of both stability and crisis, every child is given a...

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