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Interview with Tacko Ndiaye, UN Women: Water and Gender

September 2013

Ms. Tacko Ndiaye, Policy Advisor on Economic Empowerment at UN Women, talks about water and gender issues. UN Women became a Member of UN-Water in 2012 and Tacko tells us why it was important for UN Women to join, and how they can contribute to UN-Water and make a significant difference.

Why was it important for UN Women to become a member of UN-Water?

As the UN Nations entity mandated to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women worldwide, UN Women is geared towards changing the lives of women and girls worldwide, while catalyzing action by the United Nations and other stakeholders to make a difference in their everyday experience. It is crucial for UN Women to stand for safeguarding women's right to water as it is a pre-requisite for the fulfillment of their rights in various other dimensions, including their rights to education, health, food, employment, decent living standards and participation in decision making. UN-Water provides a unique platform for engaging the rest of the UN System and their partners and leverage their commitments and actions to advance gender equality and women's empowerment.

What are the main challenges related to women and water?

Water scarcity has detrimental impacts on women and girls. As you know, water is central to the full range of domestic 'unpaid' activities, which many cultures still view traditionally as "women domain": food preparation, care of animals, crop irrigation, personal hygiene of the entire household, care of the sick, cleaning, washing and waste disposal. This gendered division of labour in water collection tasks deprives women and girls from opportunities to escape the vicious circle of poverty and disempowerment. For instance, too many girls still spend too many hours fetching water instead of attending school or enjoying their childhood. Women also miss the change of accessing wage employment. This perpetuates the intergenerational transfer of poverty, hunger and disempowerment among women and girls and puts them at increased risk of violence when collecting water in the dark, or far away from home.

Another important issue is related to health. Women and girls, as primary collectors of water are often the first to be exposed to waterborne diseases, with increasing contamination of surface water and ground source. The heavy workload involved in fetching water is also a serious maternal health issue.

We also need to view women and men as equal partners in all areas of water governance and water resource management at all levels. We need to leverage women's influence in policymaking, programming, management and financing of water resources so that they can reflect their experience and expectations in these processes. We also need to identify and address the constraints that prevent different groups of women from accessing water resources, such as social and gender constructs, power relations in the community, and economic constraints.

What is the role of UN-Women and its contribution to UN-Water?

UN Women can make a valuable contribution to the work of UN-Water, bringing a gender dimension and women's voices in the policy debate on water. Together with other sister UN organisations and women's networks, we can play a key role in catalyzing alliance, knowledge sharing, political commitment, and actions to advance gender equality and women's empowerment in policy processes related to water. For instance, we have been advocating for gender equality to permeate the thematic consultations on the Post 2015 Development Agenda in various areas including water. We are also involved along with the rest of the UN System in the Technical Support Team to the Open Working Group on the SDGs. Our partnership with the Office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, UNICEF, the Permanent Mission of Finland and WaterAid to jointly organize an event on 'End water and sanitation inequalities in the future development agenda' in February 2013 is a good illustration of that advocacy. We are also partnering with ILO to conduct country case studies addressing gender and informality in the water supply chain to improve the knowledge base on gender and water issues in order to inform sound policies.

Last update:07 Oct 2014