Rural Women: the unsung heroines and agents of transformative change in Southern Africa
In today’s world, where the availability of water is becoming increasingly unpredictable, it is crucial to recognize the vital role of rural women in managing groundwater resources. Groundwater, despite being hidden beneath the surface, acts as an essential source of sustenance for countless communities around the world. These communities, particularly those in rural areas, heavily depend on groundwater for drinking, cooking, irrigation, and various other daily activities. The theme for International Rural Women’s Day 2023 is “Rural Women and Girls Building Climate Resilience” . This year’s theme aims to highlight the role of rural women and girls in building climate resilience and promoting sustainable development in rural areas. It also aims to raise awareness about the challenges faced by rural women and girls, including poverty, gender inequality, and lack of access to basic services such as healthcare, education, and clean water. As SADC-GMI we join the world in celebrating the rural women in the SADC region within which our mandate falls. In the SADC region, groundwater is the main source of water supply and rural women have the overall role to provide for and ensure water security for their families.
On this occasion, SADC-GMI takes the opportunity to highlight the remarkable intersection of resilience and sustainability that rural women bring to groundwater management, underscoring their crucial contributions to their communities and the region at large. Rural women have long been the backbone of their communities, exhibiting unmatched resilience in the face of challenging circumstances that include disproportionate vulnerabilities to the effects of climate change, gender-based violence, barriers to economic empowerment and exclusion from decision-making processes. This resilience is most evident in their ability to adapt and address the uncertainties associated with water availability. For SADC-GMI, rural women play an important role in our institutional knowledge management processes as they possess a deep understanding of their local ecosystems and have developed traditional knowledge and practices that contribute to sustainable groundwater management. Rural women have developed innovative techniques to conserve water, such as rainwater harvesting, using traditional wells, and constructing small ponds to store water and these complement SADC-GMI’s efforts and have been instrumental in projects that SADC-GMI has undertaken for managed aquifer recharge, sand dams. Their experience and knowledge of the land and climate has been crucial for SADC-GMI in making informed decisions, ensuring the sustainable extraction and usage of precious groundwater resources. This approach is important for ensuring the long-term availability of clean water for rural communities.
As primary users of water for household chores, agriculture, and livestock rearing, they directly witness the repercussions of over-extraction or contamination. These women actively participate in community-led initiatives to promote sustainable groundwater management. SADC-GMI has made deliberate efforts to ensure that in the pilot projects women take up decision making processes in established water point committees and garden committees.
To harness the full potential of rural women in groundwater management, SADC-GMI is empowering them with appropriate knowledge, resources, and decision-making authority. This is a strategic goal of SADC-GMI’s Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Mainstreaming Strategy and Implementation Plan (2021-2025) The strategy recognises that, ensuring that rural women are included in decision-making processes at all levels is essential for equitable and sustainable groundwater management and transformative change. More on our strategy here www.sadc-gmi.org
In Phase 1 of the SADC-GMI Subgrant Scheme funded by GEF and CIWA through the World Bank, rural women emerged as an important population as they were at the forefront of the successful implementation of the projects. Through the projects, women, have managed to improve the livelihoods of their families, their incomes and strengthened their leadership skills as they participated as leaders in water point committees coordinating fellow community members to lead a successful and sustainable community water supply schemes and livelihoods projects. More on these projects here Projects – SADC Groundwater Management Institute (sadc-gmi.org)
Empowering rural women with knowledge, resources, and decision-making authority is crucial for sustainable water management, not only benefiting their communities but also contributing to the global efforts in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) especially SGDs 5 (gender equality) and 6 (water security). As SADC-GMI on this day, we reaffirm our commitment to placing rural women at the forefront of creating a more water-secure and sustainable future by increasing their participation in groundwater development, use and management decision making processes.
Despite strides that have been made by SADC-GMI and other key players in the water sector in attempt to emancipate women and young girls from water challenges , it is evident that more work and efforts are still required in ensuring that women and young girls do not bear the brunt of water crisis as it is happening currently. Concerted efforts and integrated approach will go a long way addressing issues that negatively impact on women and young girls in our society.