There is a huge water crisis in the country looming above our head and I can’t help but think how this will push back so many women into poverty.
Water is a personal issue for women. In many countries, including India, we see that it is a woman’s responsibility to collect water and ensure the availability of water for her family. It is not only ensuring the availability of water but, very often, cleaning, cooking, and washing also come under her responsibility. Unavailability of water will just make things worse. Women will have to walk even longer hours to fetch water.
This would mean spending more time than before on collecting water for mothers, sisters, wives and daughters. This will push sisters and daughters out of school, college and mothers out of employment. So many women enrolled in MNREGA today in different states are not being able to complete full day of work because of the household burden of unpaid and care work that they need to provide (in some places women walk up to 4-5 hours to collect water) – with the water crisis, the burden will only increase, pushing many of them completely out of employment.
It is not only about walking long distances but it is also up to the women to find a source of water. This will also add to the time spent on unpaid work. Apart from that, this will increase stress and affect women’s emotional health disproportionately. In this situation of unavailability of water, women will start carrying more water from wherever they find it and when they walk long distances to carry more water than usual, they will also compromise on their physical health.
With the scarcity of water, people might resort to using whatever water they find; even if it’s dirty. This reminds me of a scene from the Netflix series ‘Leila’ where people were drinking black water. Anyway, according to NITI Ayog, India ranks 120th of 122 countries in a global water quality index.
Unavailability of clean water will lead to an increase in water-borne diseases especially for the elderly and the children and women would be required to attend to the sick and provide extra care work again. This will again push many women out of employment.
Since Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has launched Jal Shakti Abhiyan for water conservation and rainwater harvesting, we need women to be part of the decision making of the campaign or leading the campaign; because gender-blind policies and quick fixes that will affect women disproportionately. We need to ensure long term or short term fixture to the problem do not adversely affect women.
NITI Ayog is talking about Jal Samitis in the villages, Village Action Plan for Water but we cannot ignore the voices of women here. Finally, when we now talk about awareness raising for the conservation of water especially at home – we need to ensure we are addressing men as well.