The first issue is now available! Below is the Editor’s Note from the issue.
The global water and sanitation access crisis comes down to women. As girls, they bear the burden of not having hygienic menstrual products and schools and homes without sanitary facilities. As household managers, they spend 200 million hours a day globally collecting water, which is time lost to other pursuits. As family caretakers, they attend to those sickened by unsafe water. As food producers and water collectors, their knowledge of local water sources and ecology, of patterns of water use, of equitable management, and of local microclimate, is vast. Yet around the world, women are systematically excluded from management decisions and stakeholder discussions in water and sanitation. This is despite the fact that research increasingly shows that women’s voices are essential to sustainable and equitable water, sanitation and hygiene projects.
Considering gender within this space is critical and becoming more so, as water and sanitation access problems may worsen from both climate change , increased consumption, urbanization and population growth. Already urbanization, as wH2O contributors Susan Wachter, Eugenie L. Birch and Afaf Meleis argue, is reversing progress made in improving water access. The impacts of climate change will further affect women in gender-specific ways and so women must be considered in climate change mitigation strategies, argues Aishwarya Nair. Julia Ryan proposes a specific climate change and water scarcity mitigation strategy through women’s reproductive health and choice initiatives. The gendered health impacts of unsafe water span all ages, from infants fed formula made with tainted water as shown by Jamie Oyugi, to girls and boys learning hygiene in schools, as discussed by Iris Van Werven. The impacts of lack of water and sanitation access also span time, as Leni Sorensen explains in her reflection, and space, as Kathleen O’Reilly argues in her essay.
There are ways however, to change the dynamics of water and sanitation access for women in both rural and urban areas. Amanda Marlin, Kusum Athukorala, Marcia Brewster, Anizan Isahak, Susmita Sinha, and Salmah Zakaria detailed the roles that women can play in creating, managing and maintaining community-based water and sanitation solutions. Dakota Dobyns explains that technology and design are already redistributing water loads to alleviate women’s health problems and reducing their waiting time for water. Corporations can also have a positive impact in this area as part of their corporate social responsibility and business growth strategies, as I argue in my paper.
wH2O was inspired by the co-chairs’ trip to Sri Lanka and India in January 2011 to see water and sanitation projects run by the Philadelphia Global Water Initiative and its partners. In both places, we were struck by the implications of gender inclusion and exclusion in water and sanitation. In Sri Lanka, we were hosted by Kusum Athukorala, the chair of NetWWater, who is dedicated to increasing women’s participation in water and sanitation on a global scale. Girls are the key, she said. She explained that once girls have latrines and hygiene education and supplies at school, they demand them at home, changing family behaviors and increasing the social importance of sanitation. In India, Dr. Arun Deb, who runs arsenic-mitigation groundwater projects in West Bengal, stressed the importance of equal representation of men and women on water committees. He showed us that water projects are better managed when there are women involved. While there are many excellent non-governmental organizations, universities and companies that are working in this arena, the more people we spoke to, the more it seemed that women’s stories were disappearing without a centralized hub to house them and that there was not enough research being done. We thought this was an area where we and Penn could contribute by using social media, creating an open-access journal and harnessing the enthusiasm and knowledge of Penn’s students, staff and professors. Our current goals are to publish once a year and eventually provide funding for research grants in this field. It is ambitious, but these are goals that must be met to advance human rights, mitigate climate change’s worst effects and make the world a more secure and peaceful place. We are truly excited that the pieces in this Journal reflect the diversity of women and water issues, even beyond what we experienced on our trip.
Lastly, this Journal would not exist without the work, help and mentorship of dozens of people at the University of Pennsylvania and beyond. In particular, we would like to thank Fred Scatena, Yvette Bordeaux, Stan Laskowski, Christopher D’Angelo, Kusum Athukorala, Joanne Spigonardo, the Journal contributors, and members of the editorial board. We are truly excited about the first issue of wH2O and hope that it contributes to global progress for women and water.
Please let us know what you think – leave a comment, submit a response, or send us an email. (You can comment on the papers on our website by clicking current issue and clicking on the paper title.) You can also join the email list and of course, contribute your thoughts to the next issue!
Thank you for reading,