The human rights to water and sanitation are derived from other rights, notably the right to an adequate standard of living, which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). As part of thematic issues dialogs, the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC33) held an interactive dialog with the Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Leo Heller, whose report focused on gender equality and the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation.
Underscoring that gender equality is a fundamental human rights principle, Mr. Heller, in his presentation, focused on gender dimensions in realizing the human right to water and sanitation. Despite years of HRC concerns and in consideration of his thematic report, Mr. Heller stressed that gender inequalities are still profound in the water and sanitation sector. He emphasized that gender inequalities are pervasive and occurred at every stage of a woman’s life. We can applaud Mr. Heller for making note of the pressing need to ensure that women and girls, throughout their whole life cycle, had the same opportunities to lead a healthy and self-determining life. Particular attention had to be paid to inequalities as a result of social factors, such as caste, age, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Special Rapporteur said, “worldwide there were more water, hygiene and sanitation facilities outside home suited to men’s rather than women’s needs, which often led to women and girls avoiding public life, such as going to work and school. That situation was in large part due to the absence of women’s participation in decision-making and planning. Their meaningful participation had to be fully integrated in laws and regulations and in initiatives by non-State parties. Socioeconomic differences and sociocultural practices and stereotypes may exacerbate gender differences. States had to combat practices based on negative stereotypes. Social and cultural norms, stereotypes and stigma were at the root of very unequal power relations, of sexual harassment and violence. Women and girls avoided public sanitation places fearing gender-based violence.”
In the ensuing discussion called on States to appreciate the pivotal role of women as providers and users of water, and the need to equip and empower them to ensure their full access to safe drinking water. Armed conflict areas are of particular concern and speakers raised collective voices of concern over the inequalities in access to water and sanitation that could mean life and death in these conflict areas.
Making an example of his visit to El Salvador, Mr. Heller praised considerable progress in securing access to drinking water and sanitation. However, he called on the Government of El Salvador to improve access to the most vulnerable groups such as rural women and girls. He said the Government should incorporate into its legal framework to the right to water.
Speaking as a concerned country El Salvador thanked the Special Rapporteur for his recognition of the considerable efforts by the country to increase safe water coverage. El Salvador mentioned that in 2012 they had drafted three bills in consultation with various bodies involved in water management, including on drinking water and sanitation, on agricultural and livestock water use, and on the national irrigation systems. El Salvador noted they had approved a standard-setting framework for the integrated management of water resources in its efforts to strengthen the climate change policy.
Concerned countries offered some interesting comments. Here are just a few:
Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, reiterated the request to States to take appropriate measures to look at the situation of those deprived of liberty and inform the Working Group of the steps taken. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States agreed that women had an additional burden in caring for others, and for domestic work, which highlighted the importance of extending water and sanitation coverage.
South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, reiterated the call of placing the needs of women and girls, especially those with disability, at the forefront of water and sanitation measures, and said that the recently adopted Dar es Salaam roadmap aimed at achieving water security and sanitation for the continent by improving transparency efficiency and integrity of institutions, and the coordination of policies, including on gender equality.
Peru said that access to drinking water and sanitation for all its citizens was a priority, and agreed that empowering women in the society would also lead to better access to water and sanitation for women and girls.
Namibia reminded that in humanitarian situations, including in times of conflict or natural disaster, when water and sanitation sources were at a minimum, the specific needs of women and girls were often not taken into account.
In his concluding remarks the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, noted that several delegations raised in the dialogue the linkage between the gender dimension of water and sanitation and other rights, which pointed to the crucial need to apply a cross-cutting view of the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, as it was closely linked to a number of other Sustainable Development Goals.
The Special Rapporteur announced that his report to the General Assembly this year would be devoted to issues of interest to the international community, and the links to the 2030 Agenda.
Thanks for reading. Until the next blog – Stacy Dry Lara.