International Water Day
Sister water, sister women
Claudia Toscano Henao
MICLA Solidarity and Mission Team
“Praise be to you, my Lord, for sister water who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste”.
Francis of Assisi
The canticle of Francis of Assisi already announced it to us, water is a sister to be cared for and valued. And women have established and continue to establish a special relationship with water.
In the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:6-15), a profound dialogue takes place around this essential element for the life and vital experience of women in that socio-cultural context. The Samaritan woman is surprised at the well where she goes to fetch water by a Jewish man who takes the initiative to ask her for water and exchange dialogue with her. In this context of scarcity, in which the woman moves daily in search of vital water, Jesus redefines the value of his person and the meaning of the water that he has to offer. Living the closeness of Jesus’ Kingdom challenges us in our relationship with water and with women.
In the land of Jesus, as in many places today, water is a scarce resource, which gives new meaning to its value, its importance, and its care. The scarcity of rivers and wells makes the water that comes with the rain, at certain times of the year, a sign of God’s blessing to make the land fertile and to generate food. In order to have water, many villages and households have had to walk long distances, 10 to 15 kilometers to reach a well and collect it, carrying 20 to 15 liters of water per trip. This great effort makes it too valuable to waste.
On 8 March we celebrated International Women’s Day and on 22 March we celebrate International Water Day. We would like to invite you to reflect on the relationship between the care provided by women in the world and their relationship with this essential, valuable and scarce resource.
Even today, the difficult task of fetching water from distant wells for family and community use falls on women and girls, due to discrimination and gender roles. Instead of going to school, girls in many parts of the world spend hours fetching water, and when they do have the opportunity to be in school, they arrive tired from learning activities. Then there are the health problems and the exposure of women and girls to road hazards, assaults, sexual violence, etc., which limits and places a glass ceiling on their possibilities to make decisions and transform their lives.
The undervaluing of women’s tasks related to care and the reproduction of daily life leads to the undervaluing of the leading and fundamental role that so many women play in the administration of water in the home and in rain-fed and irrigated agriculture. On issues of water quality and storage methods, women should lead the policies and programs for the development of the care of this common good.
Poor women in developing countries are responsible for the management of water, its collection, handling, and distribution. They face daily shortages and obstacles to access to drinking water and lead the defense, conservation, and preservation of nature. Socio-environmental conflicts over mining or the privatization of water affect the survival of communities in a very direct way, so women have become custodians who defend water just as they defend their territory or their family.
Although water is a basic human need and right, a common good resource, almost one-sixth of the world’s population does not have access to it. And defending water, the environment, constitutes a great risk in the face of the extractivist interests of the world’s large economic groups. Women leaders who dare to defend and prevent the destruction of water systems are victims of violence and injustice. And as users, providers, and consumers, every time a source of water is eliminated, their workload increases and they have to look for new sources of water.
On 22 March, World Water Day, we need to rethink the value we place on this vital resource, especially at a time when water is an essential service for protection against Covid 19. We must reflect on the fact that, despite all the technological advances, almost three billion people in the world do not have access to this resource, and with all this knowledge and technology, it has not been possible to make water accessible to millions of women and families who suffer from its scarcity on a daily basis.
SDG6 (water and sanitation for all) of the 2030 Agenda is one of the most pressing challenges facing the global community. Humanity owes a debt to the care of water and to the sisters who sustain the care of this vital resource, as they carry out about 80% of the informal work related to the provision of this resource.
The right to water, as a vital resource, is a common good right, a source of life and salvation, which the power of the day disputes its price as if it were a commodity for commercial use. The use of water as a commodity for profit and speculation is an injustice that cries out to heaven, as its appropriation and contamination endangers the life of Creation and the sustainability of Creation.
Creation and the sustenance of humanity in it. Water is a gift from Mother Earth for all species. Let us take care of water and give new meaning to the work of women in its care, use and administration.
Claudia Toscano Henao
MICLA Solidarity and Mission Team