Crafting a Common Vision for Gender and Development

Up to 300 participants from more than 30 countries were gathered for the Gender, Water and Development Conference, 7-11 November in East London, South Africa. The conference is organised as a step towards an on-going journey to change equality, equity and development in the water sector.

The conference is organised by the Water Research Commission of South Africa (WRC), in partnership with the Department of Water and Sanitation of South Africa,African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW), theSouthern African Development Community (SADC) and the Women for Water Partnership (WfWP).

Several partner organisations, including the Global Water Partnership (GWP), the International Water and Sanitation Partnership (WSP), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Pretoria, and theStockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) are supporting the conference in aligning with global and continental initiatives in bridging the gap towards gender and water development.

Speaking during the inaugural speech, the Minister of Water Affairs and Sanitation of South Africa, Ms. Nomvula Mokonyane, noted that: “In the spirit of the conference theme, which is “The Untapped Connection” we would aspire to help to connect women, especially those from the rural areas who had been denied the right to clean water and have been forced to share water with animals.”

She further noted that water must be appreciated, not only as an end in itself, but as a springboard to development and it should be considered throughout the Sustainable Development Goal framework, both inside and outside of the "water box." As such, she called upon participants representing various institutions and countries to work in partnership with the countries and organisations involved in other goals of food security, risk management, energy, sustainable cities, health, and ecosystems, to be sure that targets relative to water will be linked to these goals.

GWP Chair: Equality is a Global Priority

In her opening remarks and welcoming delegates, GWP Chair Dr. Ursula Schaefer-Preuss highlighted the necessity to treat gender equality as a global priority and to take a comprehensive approach which addresses the structural drivers as well as the complexity of gender inequalities, if water security is to be achieved.

Speaking on behalf of AMCOW, Executive Secretary Bai Mass Tal and the Minister of Environment, Water and Climate of Zimbabwe, Mr. Saviour Kasukuwere, reiterated that the management of water has consequences on development. In that context, delegates were informed that the AMCOW Policy and Strategy for Mainstreaming Gender in Africa’s Water Sector was developed in the African Union’s efforts to support gender mainstreaming, within development sectors including the water sector. The AMCOW strategy on gender and water, with seven key themes, is one of the issues to be addressed at the conference.

GWP Implementing Gender Strategy

GWP’s Executive Secretary, Dr. Ania Grobicki gave a presentation on how GWP was implementing gender mainstreaming through its recently developed gender strategy. In her presentation, she reaffirmed GWPs support to mainstreaming water and gender in 30 countries.

The Ministerial presence at the conference gives an indication of the seriousness with which the advancement of Gender Equality, Equity and Development in the Water Sector is being taken on the continent. A Ministerial conference declaration will drive the implementation of the conference outcomes beyond the conference and ensure the roll out of such implementation.

The support to gender and water development was also demonstrated by a Ministerial excursion to some women water projects identified in East London, South Africa. Dr. Ania Grobicki noted that the water projects demonstrate that a lot is happening and is possible on the ground if women’s talents can be tapped. She expressed that “women are managing water”, a statement showing a common vision shared by the many conference delegates deliberating on how women and men can both play a crucial role in shaping development.

By the end of the conference, this platform should therefore provide an opportunity for all participating countries to craft a new vision, common solutions and partnerships to overcome water-related challenges still faced by women in the African continent.

Top photo: Dr. Ursula Schaefer-Preuss giving opening remarks at the conference.