What are the main gaps in the region in terms of water and gender?

In the publication, ‘Gaps, challenges and opportunities regarding water and gender in Latin America and the Caribbean’, prepared by Silvia Saravia Matus, Economic Affairs Officer, and Marina Gil Sevilla, Senior Assistant for Economic Affairs, of the Unit for Water and Energy of the Natural Resources Division of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Cepal), together with Natalia Sarmanto, Elisa Blanco, Alba Llavona and Lisbeth Naranjo, consultants from the same unit, address the answer to this question .

The answer is divided into four parts that integrate in each one the role of women within the existing gap. The first is the gap in access and infrastructure for water and sanitation, and its links to women’s health and education.

The second and third, respectively, are the gap in agricultural productivity, and its effect on food security, and the gap in the management and collection of water, and its impact on the use of time and job opportunity; and the last one is the governance and participation gap, and its effect on the community.

Gap in access and infrastructure for water and sanitation, and its links to women’s health and education

In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), 25% of people do not have access to safely managed drinking water, that is, that located in the home, available when required and free of contamination, which is considered as a basic service.

The source of this water is accessible when it is located 30 minutes away.

Of this 25%, 87.4% access at least a basic service, 1.8% access limited services, 5.4% access non-improved services, and 3.4% of them, this es, more than 5 million people, still depend on surface water.

These gaps are more pronounced in rural areas where the quality of services is deficient, and due to the lack of adequate sanitary facilities, women and girls are exposed to diseases and risks to their safety, since it makes them vulnerable to harassment, attacks, violence or rape, both at school and at work, and in the community, becoming an obstacle to learning, earning an income and moving freely.

Access to water and sanitation affects women’s safety, well-being and educational prospects. Girls’ and women’s lack of access to a clean and safe toilet, especially during menstruation, accentuates risk, shame and fear, and has a long-term impact on women’s health, their level of education, as well as as well as their livelihoods and security.

As safe water coverage increases, gender parity increases; which affects the completion of the primary level of education.

Agricultural productivity gap and its effect on food security

Globally, a quarter of economically active women practice agriculture. In LAC, the rural population amounts to 121 million people, which corresponds to 20% of the total population. Of this total, 48% (58 million) are women who work in agriculture, livestock, domestic and family care, among others.

There is a strong relationship between land ownership and the ability to make decisions on the use of water for irrigation. In LAC, the proportion of women who own agricultural land does not exceed 31%, leaving 69% of the land in charge of men; their plots are generally of smaller size and quality than those of men, and their rights to it are not adequately guaranteed.

If women had the same access as men to productive resources, including land and water, they could increase the yields of their farms by 20-30%, raising the total agricultural production of these countries by 2, 5% to 4%. This could reduce world famine by 12-17%.

This situation is alarming not only because it indicates a structural problem that makes them more vulnerable to a lack of healthy food, but also because it demonstrates malnutrition, disease, and micronutrient deficiencies. Likewise, this vulnerability can have consequences on health during pregnancy, lactation, and affect the health of children.

Gap in the management and collection of water, and its impact on the use of time and job opportunities

Globally, women spend 2.6 times more time on unpaid care and domestic work than men, which is reflected in most household chores, such as cooking and cleaning, and at the same time they are the main caregivers of children and adults who require assistance.

ECLAC points out that these tasks: cleaning, cooking and caring for others, are closely linked to the need for water, which contrasts with the fact that, although they are essential tasks to sustain life, they are considered without economic value.

Without access to water, women have less time to devote to economic activities that improve the quality of life for their families, as well as their own health and well-being.

It has been found that in LAC, on average, women dedicate 2.8 hours for every hour of unpaid work that men dedicate.

Governance and participation gap, and its effect on the community

The analysis of the gender relationship in the management and governance of water for LAC considers both policy decisions and decisions regarding infrastructure and differentiated uses of water. In practice, it is common for women not to be consulted on issues of infrastructure or water policy, for example, in the construction of wells or in improving access to cleaner water.

Consequently, in addition to being underrepresented at the institutional level, women find it difficult to participate in decision-making or perform paid operation and maintenance tasks.

How to close the gap?

ECLAC recommends adopting a special focus on investment in access to safe drinking water and sanitation, as well as water for agricultural use with differentiated attention to women in rural areas.

In this way, women must be consulted and significantly involved in the planning, execution and monitoring of sanitation and hygiene programs in the different areas of their communities.

To achieve this, it is imperative to add in the 2023 Census the question about who carries out the activities of collecting and managing water in the dwelling or household? This will provide data that counts how many women in the country should receive remuneration.

Providing women with well-designed capacity-building programs to close the gaps, with their correct implementation, is the right tool to start supporting actions that highlight the role of women in the development of the economies in LAC.

What are the main gaps in the region in terms of water and gender?