Laughing it off? No, Not this Part 3 of 3

By Francis Odupute Snr – The above story also reveals some more social flaws precluding equality and equity for sustainable development in our society, against which we need drastic reorientation and resocialisation. That is, gender stereotyping.

The continuing subtle feminization of poverty in Nigeria is rubbing off heavily on very many other aspects of our daily life such as the issues at stake – water fetching/uses, sanitation/hygiene maintenance, etc.

Let’s lay some researched background information in context here: whether we realize it or not going by the prevailing population momentum in the country, experts have averred that continued increase in our human population in Nigeria will naturally make it more difficult for us to effectively tackle our water problems.

From available statistics, Nigeria as a microcosm of the sub-Sahara Africa’s water situation, cannot provide water for more than half of its citizenry for domestic use, farming and industrial needs, etc. Despite our oil wealth, about 65% of Nigerians lack access to clean water (and good sanitation), according to the Human Development Reports.

Early this year, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), an organ of the United Nations, was quoted in same of our print media to have said that over 2.8 billion people are affected by water scarcity worldwide, that as the world’s population grows rapidly, increase of water consumption globally is a natural consequence, exacerbated by development and industrialization factors, and that population growth, economic development, pollution and climate variability, all exert pressures on water resources. Consequent upon the 2006 population figure of Nigeria put at about 140 million people, the FAO argued that our population growth should be a fillip for more prudent and responsible use of water in Nigeria to maximize economic and social welfare. A good and timely advice!

Now, talking about responsibility and social welfare, who bears the brunt of water scarcity at the home fronts, for instance? Our mothers, our sisters and our daughters. Now you can better appreciatek the import of the stereotypical statement by the community head. He told the governor, “Our women and girls dey kampe, we trust them… no more trek, trek go streams and rivers…” What picture does that statement from the number one citizen of this community paint? Just as poverty has been feminised in our society, so are water, sanitation and hygiene palavers in Nigeria.

The Gender and Water Alliance (GWA), an international initiative to promote women’s and men equitable access to and management of safe and adequate water, once wrote that “women and girls in developing countries bear most of the burden of carrying, using and protecting water. They also have the most responsibility for environmental sanitation and home health”.

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in a document for the “twelfth session of the commission on sustainable development”, threw more lights on this. It said in part that “over the years, women have accumulated an impressive store of environmental wisdom, being the ones to find water, to educate children in hygiene matters and to understand the impact of poor sanitation on health. At the same time, women and girls are often oblige to walk many hours every day fetching water, while men are rarely expected to perform such task”. How vividly the two records above mirror the typical on-the-ground reality in traditional African communities such as this in our story!

Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right, a need that affects both men and women alike. But the status quo remains in most of our communities that women and girls are culturally assigned the role of fetching water as part of their domestic duties at home. We were born and bred in the custom as Africans, that women are better home keepers, better managers and maintainers.

These are the excuses of many gender biased cultural sentiments that are ironic to a lot of gender discriminations and inequalities our women and girls suffer, especially at the home fronts; if our women are better home keepers, better managers and maintainers, why do they remain out of the picture whenever decisions of who, where and how to design, locate, maintain and even protect such facilities as water boreholes which affect them most?

From the answer given by the community youth leader in our story, it is obvious that females are relegated in the community. One may not pick a hole in the fact that able bodied youths are needed to watch over the newly commissioned borehole water project against vandalisation (since, in fact, no woman or girl or child will ever think of engaging in such crime that will boomerang in continuous long trekking to streams and rivers), and besides that, it is difficult for a dog to dare to eat the bone hung on its neck to guard.

However, the youth leader made us understand that in this community, women and girls have no business since how the borehole is designed and constructed/set up, where it is located, who locates the facility, oversees its daily use, maintains or generates and uses money generated to fix or fuel (if powered by a power generating set) the generator that powers the borehole to pump water for consumers in the community. He put all the responsibility on his boys, and even volunteered to personally supervise everything. But he goofed, and we must not blame him because we’re all involved in this gender injustice, one way or the other.

A 2002 UNICEF study of rural households in 23 sub-Saharan African countries found that a quarter of women spent 30 minutes to an hour each day fetching and carrying water, and 19% spent an hour or more, depending on distance and the crowd at water sources. Some women interviewed in Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, etc, spontaneously mentioned that with closer water comes greater self-esteem, less harassment of women and better school attendance by girls. What picture does this paint? African females are daily faced with water-related sufferings, abuses, low-self-esteem, educational deprivations and social insecurity to mention a few”.

Yet all too often decisions about the design and location of water facilities are made without the involvement of the female users, who have most at stake in this regard. Despite their number and their prominent roles and responsibilities in relation to water and sanitation, women often have no voice and no choice in decisions about the kind of services they need or are receiving”. To disregard gender considerations and make it an all men and boys affairs in this community is a good recipe for project failure, because the real people that feel the pains the most, the people that can move jealously guide the facility, the people that know best where to site the facility to reduce sufferings and achieve more gender equality – the female users – are not well represented in the planning and execution processes. Still wondering why the water borehole project(s) in your own community aren’t just working? This is one of them!

The way forward?

Let me start by quoting a segment of The NIGERIAN OBSERVER editorial of Tuesday, August 10, 2010 (page 12), which states, “The NIGERIAN OBSERVER asserts that while there are obvious problems that result in water shortage, there is lack of political will by the authorities concerned to make deliberate and conscious efforts to provide water for the people”. The editorial ended by urging “the Federal Government to produce a comprehensive water policy for the nation from which the states will take a cue as it appears that only lip service is being paid to the water shortage problem that has become a national phenomenon”.

It was heart-warming when on the 6th of August 2010, the Edo State Government, through the Commissioner for Energy and Water Resources, Comrade Didi Adodo, announced that it was out to end water scarcity in Edo State. This assurance was given by the commissioner while playing host to the Edo State Board of Directors, Urban Water Board led by its Chairman, Honourable Frank Arewele. According to the Commissioner, Edo people should see the issue of water as a challenge and not as a problem and that Governor Adams Oshiomhole was on top of the situation as he has determined to extend water borehole to all the nooks and crannies of the state. As the people have taken this media report to heart and are watching to see words marched with efficacious actions. It is imperative to lay a few things before the government and their planners in the water board:

1.         Learn from the mistake of the Imo State government. in January, this year, the Imo State government made public its plan to begin rehabilitation of rural water scheme in the state. Chief Ralph Nwosu, the Commissioner for Public Utilities and Rural Development, in a chat with newsmen in Owerri, conceded that the government was careful not to allow the mistake of the past which made some politicians in Imo State to hijack the water scheme in the guise of constituency projects and misappropriated the funds by taking water project to communities that did not need them. The government decided that for real impact, a new strategy would be taken to executive water projects henceforth with percentage contributions by local councils, benefiting communities and the state government.

Now, the benefiting community’s role may not necessarily being monetary forms but should be such that will guarantee gender mainstreaming and supports capacity building for water and sksktation infrastructure and services development with the interests of women and men in land. This is crucial because recognizing the various roles of men and women when planning and implementing projects and schemes like this can increase chances for its sustainability.

2.         As the Federal Government and policy makers rethink having clearer commitments to our water and sanitation wahala, as part of their population and poverty reductionk strategies and dkdkfting from gender respectivelyk, states and local government should encourage gender mainstreaming especially at grassroots levels so that more women, who are more at the receiving end of our water problems, will be more involved in budgeting, expenses, workforce, think tanks and capacity development for equitable access to safe water.

Conclusively, if water the liquid of life is a basic human needs, and our females play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water, let us recognize their contributions in organized arrangements for the development and management of our water resources. Beginning from the states water boards to communities, borehole keepers. It is essential that both women and men be equally involved in decision making processes regarding the provision, location, technology and protection of water and sanitation facilities in the community and household. Or what do you think?