The 8th World Water Forum, WWF8, is currently taking place in Brasilia, Brazil, 18 to 23 March, 2018, with the theme of Sharing Water. SI President, Mariet Verhoef-Cohen is attending in her capacity as President of Women for Water Partnership (WfWP) and the Water Scarcity in Agriculture Platform (WASAG), where she is co-chair. Mariet will be speaking at various sessions and Soroptimists, active in the water sector are also participating: Asha Abdulrahman of SI Kenya, Past Union President SI Kenya, steering committee member of WfWP, a certified trainer specialised in cleaner production and climate change, and Margriet Roukema, SI the Netherlands, communications expert at Deltares, an independent institute for applied research in the field of water and subsurface.
The World Water Forum (WWF) is the world’s largest water-related event and is organized by the World Water Council (WWC), an international organization that brings together all those interested in the theme of water. The WWC organizes the WWF every three years together with the respective host country and city. WfWP is a member of the WWC. A look at the programme shows a diversity of water topics such as Water as a force for wellbeing, AcquAwareness, Wastewater reuse, Water for Food, Water and disasters, Youth participation in decision-making processes, to name a few.
The official opening ceremony was on Monday 19 March and over this week, there are dozens of lectures, panel discussions, ministerial meetings and roundtables, side events, etc. Participants from amongst others, UN organizations, NGOs, ministries, parliaments, other government bodies from all over the world, the World Bank, University faculties, and specific water oriented organisations will be attending. The mission of the event is “to promote awareness, build political commitment and trigger action on critical water issues at all levels, to facilitate the efficient conservation, protection, development, planning, management and use of water in all its dimensions on an environmentally sustainable basis for the benefit of all life on Earth”. A number of agreed conclusions are expected to be drawn up during the sessions and the ministerial round tables.
“It is my deep belief that water is a matter of life and death” Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres at CSW62.
Why does the World Water Forum concern Soroptimists?
A lack of availability of usable water is one of the barriers to the implementation of SDG5: to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. To achieve this goal, women need education (SDG 4) to be empowered. However, if women have to fetch water, look after ill family members due to contaminated water, or have no food due to lack of water (water scarcity), they have no opportunity to get an education and be empowered. Therefore, we need to link SDG 5, gender equality and SDG 6, water for all for all purposes.
Women, and in particular women living and working in rural areas, are deeply connected to water. In many countries women are responsible for fetching potable water for their families, as well as water for growing vegetables or to use in their businesses. Climate change, natural disasters and reduced soil fertility through use of pesticides and herbicides has increased global awareness of the vulnerability of water itself, although not enough attention is focused on the inclusion of women in finding and implementing solutions. Women have vast experience and vital knowledge to transition to a more resilient and sustainable practice, but this is not sufficiently recognized. Women should figure more prominently in water management, and their expertise, if harnessed through education and empowerment, could position more women as successful leaders.
“If we do nothing, five billion people will be living in areas with poor access to water by 2050” UNESCO Chief #NatureForWater
Agriculture is the single largest employment source globally and represents 80 percent of the world’s working poor. Needless to say, there is no agriculture without water, as agriculture uses 80% of the available water. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia 60-70 percent of women work in agriculture. The vast majority of this work is informal, seasonal, and difficult, dangerous and undervalued. Women are crucial in translating agricultural production – including livestock, crops, fisheries, agro-forestry, and wild-harvesting of foods – into food and nutrition security for their families, their communities, and their nations. They cultivate food crops, produce commercial crops alongside men, manage livestock, grow vegetables in home gardens, fish, and harvest from the forest. Women also use their local knowledge for wild-harvesting of nutritious foods and herbs to provide food and nutrition security for their families.
Therefore, it is not without reason, that Mariet’s main speech during WWG8 is entitled ‘The role of women in building resilient agricultural systems’. She will highlight a number of projects that have been carried out in Sri Lanka, Senegal, South Africa, and Northern India where training women in various water-related skills, such as climate change adaptation, disaster risk resilience, enhanced food security through eco-friendly agriculture and non-toxic gardening and the use of modern and appropriate water conservation and agriculture technologies, has resulted in women becoming game changers in adapting to climate change in their communities.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has calculated that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, water being the most important, they could increase the yields on their farms by twenty to thirty per cent. That could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to four per cent per annum and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by twelve to seventeen per cent.
Special attention will also be given to the role of women during the special session ‘Urban Poverty and Water’ on 21 March, where Asha Abdulrahman will be on the panel.
Ambassadors of Water
In the run up towards WWF8, WfWP, Soroptimist International and the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW) joined together to co-organize several awareness trainings to mobilise women in Brazil on water-issues. A meeting was hosted by the first lady, wife of the Governor of Brasilia, Marcia Rollemberg, and supported by Soroptimist Brasilia. A large group of Brazilian women water experts pledged to work as ambassadors for water by signing a declaration of commitment paper titled “Commitment of the Women of Brasilia in Favor of Water”. The video Ambassadors of Water was launched at the WWF8 and this impressive movie will also be broadcast at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development in New York in July.
To read about the SI President’s Appeal 2017-2019, Women, Water and Leadership please click here.
Lead Image – Mariet and Soroptimists join the Ambassadors of Water