WASH, Gender Equality And Beijing+25: Holding States To Account

In this virtual roundtable on gender-responsive water, sanitation and hygiene services (WASH), Margarita Lopez, shares the concerns of water and sanitation workers around privatisation, employment and decent work and offers some practical steps to recover on how unions can work with women's organisations in Colombia to achieve the BPfA commitments.

Main concerns of water and sanitation workers: around privatisation, employment and decent work,

Practical steps to recover public services and defend public sector workers

Privatisation puts the effective realisation of the rights of women and girls at risk.

For PSI and its water unions, the fight against the privatization of public services, including water and sanitation, is the fight to defend the human rights of all citizens. This makes us a union with a close relationship with the community; our motto is TO PLACE PEOPLE ABOVE PROFIT. A fundamental element of this link is our Global Action Programme, where one of the priorities is to promote Quality Public Services that respond to Gender Equality, which we propose as:

  • Universal: universal access and coverage

  • Public: publicly funded services, public supply, public management, public governance and public accountability.

  • Solidarity: services that guarantee the exercise of full human rights for the entire population, whose guiding principle is the redistribution of wealth and the construction of social justice

  • Transparent: effective democratic governance of public services requires transparency in decision-making, financing, construction, delivery, monitoring and review. These processes must be open to public scrutiny

  • With decent work; that respects labour and trade union rights and,

  • Accountable to gender equality: that in any case guarantee that women exercise their full human rights and that they are designed to break the chain of reproduction of patriarchal structures and achieve the transformation of women's lives with an intersectional approach (sex, race, class, age, sexual option/identity, among others)

Privatisation puts the effective realisation of the rights of women and girls at risk.

How can unions work with women's organisations in Colombia to achieve the BPfA commitments, particularly for WASH?

The unions of essential public services such as water and sanitation are civil society actors that play a fundamental role in access to water in public hands. We are weaving alliances with civil society, with communities in rural areas, with community aqueducts, with water users and communities, with women's organizations, we are promoting strategies such as THE UNITED SOCIAL PLAN FOR WATER WITH A GENDER FOCUS, WORKING WITH WOMEN, and social mobilization around the defense of water as a fundamental human right. We women have to influence the construction of a transformative democracy that is more humane and supportive and that guarantees access to public services, financed with public resources with a gender focus.

Without access to these essential services, it is impossible to reduce and redistribute the gendered burdens of unpaid care work and to realize women's political, economic and social rights!

How do you see the achievements of the BPfA in the water sector and women's rights?

And so... the 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action have fallen short...!

25 years after the declaration of the Beijing Platform, the commitments made to advance access to safe water and sanitation for the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls have made very incipient progress.

The WHO has stated that one third of the world's population today does not have access to improved sanitation and 51% are women. Public funding for essential public services that transform the violation of women's and girls' rights must be committed.

As an example, in Colombia, although coverage in urban areas is maintained, the poorest and most vulnerable communities that do not have the means to pay cannot access drinking water or sanitation. If we are located in rural areas, there is no significant progress because the private sector is not interested in investing where there are few users; it is the communities in rural areas that manage the water, and there is no public investment in rural areas, With women and girls having to travel long distances to wash clothes, meet household needs, running many risks and drinking raw water from poor physical, chemical and bacteriological conditions and limiting their fundamental rights to education, social participation and involvement in decision-making, it is men who represent them.

Could it be that what is happening in Colombia is not happening in the small and most vulnerable populations of countries like Asia and Africa?

Now, in the face of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, not only are the political and economic rights of women and girls threatened, but also the health of women who need safe water to wash their hands and to combat the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, who do not have access to water will find it difficult to survive this health crisis.

We should mention that the pandemic in Colombia made it possible for a public policy decision to order the reconnection of the service of more than 300,000 subscribers covering a population of 1.5 million people, who had their service cut off due to inability to pay for access to this vital resource. Is this not also possible in poor communities in Asia and Africa? This shows that with public resources, if it is possible to guarantee access to water for women and girls, we cannot go back on our proposal which is to maintain access to water for these poor populations who do not have the means to pay, who are subject to special constitutional protection and whose right to life is violated due to their economic inability to pay to guarantee their access.

It is not a question of a general freeing of essential public services such as water, its transport and treatment generates costs that must be sustainable for those who do have the capacity to pay, accompanied by a fair fiscal policy that redistributes wealth and provides financing for these essential services to guarantee their universal access.

In rural areas, we propose public-community partnerships as a tangible alternative that strengthens community self-management of water and improves water conditions for human consumption in rural areas, promoting community self-management that links women's access to improved sanitation and water management.

We elevate these realities experienced by the countries of Latin America to a simile with other regions of the world.

Margarita Lopez - (Confederation of Water, Sanitation and Environment Workers of the Americas), (CONTAGUAS) & Member of PSI's World Women’s Committee. Original in Spanish.