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    UN Human Rights Council – 18TH Session "Women and the Right to Water" – High Level Panel

    Prepared by Michele Wirt, 1st VP Communications, FAWCO

    26 September 2011

    The moderator of this panel, Ms. Hendrica Okondo, knew a lot about the subject and had worked with or knew very intimately the work of the organizations that were presenting. She was able to tie the different messages together and paint a clear picture of the issues.

    Lois Herman began the panel by reading a statement of UN Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque. The following is a recommendation in Ms Albuquerque’s August 2011 report to the UN:

    “Adopt a comprehensive federal law on water and sanitation guaranteeing the rights to safe water and sanitation without discrimination and clearly delineating the responsibilities of public officials at the federal, state and local levels. Such a law must prioritize water for personal and domestic use and set affordability standards, among others.”

    The panellists were ISIS International, WEDO women’s environment and development organization, MADRE, Swiss Red Cross and WECF women in Europe for a common future.

    Ms Lois Herman presented the faces of the women affected by water and sanitation issues. Everybody knows of these stories but they are so far removed from our daily lives that she wants to remind us of how the issues affect women on a personal level. In a video show of Indian women at a well, they are asked why the men in the back ground do not help and one woman answers, “It’s not their job”.

    The panellists had essentially the same message: Water and sanitation was declared a human right by the UN in 2010. The majority of people who are at risk of associated water activities and who are lacking water are women and children. We must find a solution to these problems.

    Issues associated with women/children and water:

    • Need to walk many miles to collect water
    • Young girls will be assigned to carry water instead of going to school
    • Women spend 1/3 of their life to fetch water
    • Must carry heavy containers full of water many miles a day
    • Risk injury from carrying water
    • Risk attack by animals or men
    • Risk disease as a result of sexual attack
    • Lack of washing facilities a problem for primary care givers mostly women and children
    • Lack of toilettes in public areas, especially schools deter young girls from attending school, menstruation an issue
    • Women are the main managers of water but are not policy makers

    Each organization had a slightly different slant on the issue:

    ISIS – Empower women and get them involved in leadership roles, it is primarily concerned with giving women a voice

    WEDO – Concerned mostly with climate change and how this will exacerbate the water problem

    MADRE – Involve women in projects such as farming etc to empower them and put them in a more active role of using resources.

    Swiss Red Cross – Concerned primarily with sanitations, water and sanitation intrinsically linked

    WECF – Practical solutions, Ecosan toilets

    Necessary actions:

    Disseminate information is key, must open the lines of communication and bring issues to an international arena i.e. the UN. The panellists try to disseminate information on a local level: ISIS uses computers, mobiles and radio to give women a voice. WEDO wants to concentrate speak of the most vulnerable, not the economic bottom line when speaking of water. MADRE spoke of a children’s story passed down through the generations to education generation after generation and passing on best practices. WECF gave questionnaires to boys and girls to gather information on what then needed and what they thought about the new toilets. Swiss Red Cross tries to link communities and government. All of this local information must come together at an international level and be transformed into more solid agreements that will ultimately solve many of these issues. The women and the right to water panel was the beginning of this process.

    Kathleen Simon, FAWCO UN Rep, also has  these additional notes on the Panel for Women & The Right to Water – High Level Panel:

    Lois Herman (AWA Rome, head of WURN) and organizer of this Panel told me that “FAWCO was an inspiration for me to create such a Panel at the Human Rights Council”. Lois explained that a key factor was “timing the Women & Water Panel to the Human Rights Council Session when the Special Rapporteur on Water and Sanitation was reporting, and would agree to submit a Statement for our Panel. This moved the Panel to high level, and was one reason we were able to get one of the coveted rooms in the Palais des Nations for our Panel.”

    The Panel was a collection of speakers from organizations whose work touches so many different aspects of Women and the Right to Water. Each paper was excellent and linked very well by the Moderator Ms Okondo.

    ISIS specifically pointed out that the task of collecting water is difficult. This problem did not come onto the UN agenda until 1980 and it is slowly coming to the forefront. ISIS set three priorities: rights of water; gender inequality and climate change for approaching a solution to this problem. Women are recognized for being responsible for water provision and therefore women must be part of the decision making process as a result.  Each panelists within their papers agreed that women must be brought into the decision making process because the provision of water is their responsibility within homes and villages.

    After the papers were presented, we were short on time, so no questions were called, but each panelist was asked to give one important point: Lois said that it is imperative that we keep our finger on the pulse to monitor what is happening. MADRE said that solutions are to be found in work women are doing locally and that women will come and tell their own stories; WEDO urges us to think of implementation of water, sanitation and hygiene and that the obstruction to moving forward comes from global wars; the Swiss Red Cross stressed importance of not just water, but sanitation and hygiene and that the work of women at local level must be linked to government to give a voice to women.

    Lois Herman is an extraordinary lady, very passionate about her topic and very active in keeping up to date with Women’s UN Reports and getting these out to so many other organizations. It was amazing how much is being done regarding water and this panel showed each of the organizations present what the other organizations are doing.

    It was impressive watching the Swiss Red Cross power point presentation and seeing the different types of water supplies that the Swiss Red Cross provide. Lorenz Indermuehle stressed it is not just water provision that should be provided but also sanitation and hygiene. He showed pictures of the Red Cross work at village level in Laos, Mali and Tibet.

    Another successful example of local projects was from Women in Europe Common Future (WECF) who provide latrines to schools and elsewhere. It costs Euros7 for each toilet as well as hand washing facilities.... fantastic.

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