Make women synonymous with water
By Barry Underwood
Sustainable management of water is today a global concern.
'Sustainable' means we can't extract and use more water than is being put back into the earth. But this is actually what is happening. And nowhere is this more obvious than right here in Gujarat, especially in Saurashtra.
Clearly, sustainable water management can't be left to farmers alone, or to housing societies in towns and cities, or to our industries. All have failed miserably in exercising restraint in use of water, leading to the present crisis situation.
There is an obvious need to control the use of water, but successive governments have been reluctant to touch the issue as it would be a massively unpopular move. Instead the policy has been to try and impound more and more water through constructing check dams, large dams, and tanks. But without controls, this only encourages the use of more water.
Controls can be of two kinds. Legal controls over ownership of water sources and their use could be imposed, but would be a political dynamite. The other controls can be social. But who in our society will do this, when already our farmers and our housing societies have failed in their social responsibility?
I believe the answer lies in the hands of women. Any analysis will show that women have a greater dependency on this vital resource than men, whether for agriculture, drinking water, or other domestic uses. However, since men exercise control over the use of water, in irrigation societies, in private wells and bores, in housing societies and in industries, there is in reality no control, and it is women who suffer the most in the process.
In villages, women have to trudge long distances in search of water, or fight at taps and tankers for a measly share. If they are unable to meet their family needs, they may be abused by their husbands. If any section of society knows the true value of water it is women -- and it is therefore logical to assume that they would be the best managers of this precious resource.
At the village level, panchayats need to exercise control over water, and women must be there in full force to ensure this. The rules of irrigation societies must be changed to allow the full membership of women along with their husbands, and they must be on the managing committees. In our housing societies, women committees should be given control over water distribution. And above all, women should be given equal land rights with men, so that they can make decisions about the water that is extracted from the land.
Men have failed to protect our earth's resources. It is time to move over, and give women a chance.
(The author is chief executive officer, Agha Khan Rural Support Programme, [India