Women and water in India. In the villages of North Gujarat in India, so much groundwater has been removed that water supplies are now becoming scarce, according to Bhawana Upadhyay, writing in the journal Agriculture and Human Values. Women in North Gujarat are basically looked upon as "…domestic water users while men are seen as productive water users, despite the fact that women make significant use of water for productive purposes as well"
(Upadhyay, 2005, p. 411). Domestic water usage in India goes well beyond drinking and cooking, Upadhyay writes. Dalit women in Nepal for example grow commercial vegetable crops with the water they draw; they utilize a drip system, which costs just $12 to install, and it results in a profit of around $80 annually. Without a source of safe water, the livelihood of these women would disappear. Still, women's use of water tends to be classified as domestic, and hence is not counted because of the gendered system of accounting in some regions of India (Upadhyay, 2005, p. 412).
Upadhyay's article argues that based on empirical evidence from North Gujarat, if women were officially recognized as multiple water users -- and not just domestic water users -- that fact could be used to assure more reliable access to clean water and in the process promote the productive use of water to make life better for the household economy (Upadhyay, 2005, p. 412). The study that Upadhyay references was conducted in the Banaskantha district, in the extreme western region of India. In this region the villages are labeled "source" villages or "no source" villages, depending on whether or not the village had access to a good source of water, Upadhyay continues (p. 412).
In the no source villages women walked on average one kilometer to fetch water for their domestic purposes and most households did not have an adequate supply of water, hence the government brings in water tankers from time to replenish supplies. Very little green fodder grows in these villages and albeit the agriculture is primarily grain-fed (Upadhyay, 2005, p. 413). The source villages however do have plenty of fresh water, their crops are irrigated, and these villages have healthy dairy cattle from which to derive a sustainable economy, Upadhyay explains. For the empirical study, 90 households were chosen (15 from each of six villages) and the interviews were conducted with women present; in fact a daily routine diagram was created so that the actual time women spent on each daily activity could be recorded (Upadhyay, 2005, p. 414).
The results showed that, as expected, women bear the burden of hauling water to the home for domestic uses. In no source villages -- where a government tanker is often the only source of water -- water use daily is about 18.6 liters, Upadhyay writes. But in source villages, the per capita water usage per day is about 36.1 liters (Upadhyay, 2005, p. 414). Ninety percent of women in no source villages reported walking an average of two hours round trip to fetch water, and in the summer temperatures typically soars to 114 degrees Fahrenheit (Upadhyay, 2004, p. 414). Even the water tankers are not enough to supply water for no source families, the author continues, and social conflict results when the tankers disappear with no explanation for several days (p. 414).
Virtually all villages in Banaskantha raise livestock of some kind, and the data that Upadhyay recorded shows that women were heavily involved in feeding, cleaning, collecting fodder, milking and delivering milk plus administering medicines to the livestock (p. 415). Women's working hours while contributing to the care and feeding of livestock was over 70% of the total daily labor hour requirements and the men's contribution was a bit less than 30% of the daily labor hour routine (Upadhyay, 2005, p. 415). The author's data shows that more than 90% of women interviewed in both kinds of villages handled money raised every fortnight from the sale of cow's milk; that money was used for expenses in the household and for children's school costs and medical needs (Upadhyay, 2005, p. 415).
One of the most severe drawbacks for women in these villages is that because of serious water...
417). Upadhyay's conclusion is that in dry areas of India poor women are essentially sustaining their households by raising livestock, which by all standards in the western world should strengthen their bargaining power.
Many women in the developing world are basically keeping families afloat domestically and economically. And yet, in the developing world women are still for the most part political outsiders while men control the dwindling resources and show few signs of having the vision to upgrade living conditions vis-a-vis streamlined, modern agricultural and water resource policies. These regions are running out of safe clean water and the governments, mainly males, are doing little to alleviate the situation.
Caste System creates bias against women. Another aspect of life in India that tends to work against women is the Hindu caste system, which ranks the importance of people and communities according to social relationships, economic and based on the principles hierarchy and difference, according to an article in the journal Natural Resources Forum (Singh, et al., 2005, p. 215).
The research for this article was conducted among 265 men and 230 women in 15 villages in the Indian states of Bihar, Jkarkhand and Madhya Pradesh.
Singh writes that India's government has worked to improve the quality and availability of drinking water; in fact some 1,256,956, or 88.4% of rural villages in India are well provided with facilities at the time of this article (Singh, 2005, p. 216). Also 147,791 (10.4%) are partially outfitted with drinking water facilities, Singh continues (p. 216). Moreover, some 3.5 million hand pumps and more than 100,000 piped water schemes have been installed through government programs, according to Singh's research on page 216. But the salient questions here are twofold: a) have all these improvements ensured that the intended users, women, have access to the water for their domestic needs? And b) Why is it true that while some 80% of fresh water locations were placed in public areas, only 16% were sited in areas where the poor reside?
Indeed, in the 15 villages studied by Singh and colleagues a total of 44 public hand pumps were installed -- but only 9 were located in the areas where poorer castes reside, Singh explains. The program has been manipulated, it is obvious, according to the data presented. In the village of Lamkana the one pump was located near the Brahmin neighborhood -- an upper caste section of the village.
"Due to the expected social norm for the scheduled castes [poorer castes] to keep out of the Brahmin neighborhood, their women are excluded from accessing the pump" (Sing, 2005, p. 217). Also, most Brahmin residents have their own private wells and the public well merely represents an additional water source for them while the poor women rely on the public wells and pumps as their only source of water for their families (Singh, 2005, p. 217). That means that notwithstanding the government bureaucrats -- males control most local and regional government programs -- intended purpose for the pumps and wells, the caste system forces poor women in Lamkana Village to walk miles to a distant well in order to retrieve clean safe water.
Meantime women in Hathoda Village have run into the same problems as those in Lamkana. A public hand pump (with an apparatus attached to decontaminate fluoride pollution) was developed to serve the entire population, but the site chosen was in an upper class caste neighborhood. Hence, the women from poorer casts are prevented from using it, and must as a result use water from a traditional well, one that is contaminated (Singh, 2005, p. 218).
This unequal situation itself is contaminated with bias against poor women, and is yet another example of injustice for women. The male gender makes policy decisions at the government level and those decisions, while seeming made with good intentions, send poor women away from their villages in search of clean safe water for the survival of their families. The wiser course for the men making policy decisions is to plan their water-related support projects around the idea of socio-cultural dynamics -- taking into account the caste system, for example -- rather than just based on quantitative terms (numbers of wells and pumps).
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