Sunday, April 5, 2009

Women and water

March 8th is the worlds day for celebrating women. March 22nd is world water day. What do these two have to do with eachother? I joined a course on gender in drinking water provision, sanitation and hygiene at CREPA (Centre Regional d'Eau Potable et Assainissement) in Ouagadougou to find out more...

In Burkina Faso, as in much of the developing world, water is a womans business. Getting water from the well, storing it at home, cooking and cleaning, washing clothes and taking care of the children... many water-related tasks are performed by women. Yet, during the decision-making process, men usually dominate. And as is the case with many other development issues, we are learning that solutions that do not include all stakeholders into the decision-making process are not the most effective.

In the case of our organization (PGE), we work with putting in place committee to manage a source of water. For example, a village well should have a committee consisting of a president, a secretary, a treasurer, a maintenance person and a hygienist. Together this team should take care of the well, keep it running and clean. Now imagine that almost the whole committee consists of men, while the well is used for 90% by women... can that work? In our work we are trying to include women in these committees, but this is not an easy process. Also, numeric representation does not automatically guarantee participation. So, a course in gender, to get some ideas.

During two weeks, me and a group of wonderful, funny and smart people worked on this topic. We brainstormed, discussed and laughed. Almost all of the participants were Burkinabe, so my ideas on how to include gender aspects did not always stroke with the groups', but that's also an important issue to think of: solutions need to be locally adapted to fit. So the Burkinabe way it was! :-)

After an introduction to the concepts and issues in gender and water, a field trip was organized in order to allow us to collect data in a gender-sensitive fashion. For this field trip, CREPA had asked us (PGE) if they could come visit one of our intervention villages. So off to Zandkoom we all went! We infiltrated the village with our questions, testing different approaches and tools, turning issues around and trying to get a grip on the local reality. Afterwards, we worked with this material designed a project to deal with the villages water-related issues in a gender-sensitive way.

After these two weeks, I think I can recapitulate what we learned in a few rules-of-thumb... gender means:

- including all groups, taking care not to exclude the weaker ones: men, women, young, old, disabled, illiterate...
- sex is biological, gender is a social and cultural construct. thus, working with gender needs to be done in a way which is adapted to the local society and culture
- working with gender is essentially working with human behavior.... in other words, patience is highly recommended

Back at work, I hope I will be able to facilitate the discussion on how we can work with gender in our program and in the future.

picture: field work: looking at the sanitation and water situation in a village, with gender glasses on

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