Men and women have different roles when it comes to water activities, particularly in rural areas. On one hand, women, as the guardians of rural household hygiene, are mainly the users of water while men are the providers and managers of water resources (World Bank 2002). On the other hand, social equity is embedded in action that supports the sustainable management and use of water resources. Social equity requires that a fair share of water benefits and responsibilities be transmitted to men and women (Katsi 2008).
Water constitutes a crucial component of any attempt to meet the targets of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (Leino 2007). The use and management of water is strongly affected by gender relations - a domain for social inequity. Therefore, women's roles are a key focus when it comes to equity in water management practices, especially in developing countries such as Palestine. This paper uses Kur Village in the Tulkarem district as a case study to argue that water quality is a direct indicator that could be used to assess gender equity in rural Palestinian areas.
The village of Kur consists of 54 households. The infrastructure there is poor. For example, there is no water network or sanitation system. Therefore, the families of Kur mainly depend on collective water, in particular wells and tankers which are bought in from other towns.
The goal of this research is to discuss gender inequity using water quality as an indicator. It aims to look at gender issues through a water lens at a time when other researchers are studying water issues through a gender perspective.
The Study Area
Kur, which has 262 inhabitants, is located 19 kilometers southeast of Tulkarem. It is considered to be water stressed. With such low-income localities, there is no expectation of either a water network or a sanitation system in the near future. Therefore, collective wells are the dominant system for water collection in the village. Though common, because these collection practices are not scientifically monitored or tested, the water quality they produce is considered poor.
Water supply and sanitation in the Palestinian territories are often compromised by severe water shortage and are highly influenced by the Israeli occupation. The water resources of Palestine are fully controlled by Israel and the division of groundwater is subject to provisions in the Oslo II Accord. In 2012, for example, the annual available water quantity (million cubic meters/year) was 199.9 MCM but only 122.6 MCM were available for consumption, meaning that the average use of water was only 81.7 litres per capita per day (LPCD) (PWA 2012). Historically, this has therefore been supplemented by the harvesting of rain water, a practice that has been used in Palestine since the late fourth millenium B.C.E. (Wikipedia 2014). Because of the landscape's large arid or semi-arid areas, this collected water has been used not only for domestic use but also for irrigation.
Water Quality Analysis
Forty-nine samples from collective wells were taken over a two week period and analyzed for Total Coliform bacteria and Faecal Coliform bacteria. Total and Faecal microbial tests were conducted and analyzed according to standard methods (Eaton et.al 1995).
In the interest of meeting a large number of women and facilitating a wide discussion, a workshop was held with the participation of 20 women from Kur. It focused on two dimensions: knowledge about water quality and gender roles.
The data collected from water sample tests was analyzed by manual static analysis. The data collected from the workshop was analyzed and presented qualitatively (Annex 1).
Results and Discussion
The water test results revealed that 92% of the collected samples failed to meet international standard requirements. Furthermore, 92% of samples were contaminated with Total Coliform bacteria, while 90% samples were contaminated with Faecal Coliform bacteria.
Total and Faecal bacterial presence is linked to sewage contamination and poor hygiene, which, in turn, are a consequence of a lack of environmental knowledge and public awareness of water management and water quality. It also means that inhabitants of Kur have very limited access to safe drinking water. People's livestock, agricultural production and personal health are all affected by the poor quality of water.
It's perhaps not surprising, then, that most of the women and their household members in Kur are affected by different types of water inborn diseases.
Gender Roles and Water Quality
The use and management of water is significantly affected by gender relations. Most of the women of Kur recognize their roles in water management as users in the domestic sphere. They use water in cooking, cleaning, drinking and so on, but they are rarely involved in other practices related to water management such as water disinfection and well cleaning.
Women's role in water management is dictated directly by gender roles. These roles are learned behaviors in a given society that determine what activities, tasks and responsibilities are perceived as male or female duties. Moser recognizes women's triple roles in each society: a reproductive role, a productive role and a community role (Moser 1993).
Men and women assume distinct responsibilities for using and managing water. In Kur, as in many rural areas around the world, women are considered solely as water users. One of the women in the workshop said: "What's important to us is to have water at home and to use it in our daily life needs."
Women in Kur take care of the family. They are responsible for the family's basic needs, such as health, as well as all other household duties that are linked directly to their roles as mothers. Conversely, they are not responsible for water collection. This separation of duties means the women are not primarily concerned about water quality. This disinterest is compounded by a lack of knowledge and awareness about water quality issues.
Women from Kur exhibited very limited knowledge regarding water quality and its impact on health. They had no way of knowing, for example, that women whose tap water has high levels of Tri Halo Methane (THM) suffer early-term miscarriages at a rate of 15.7%, compared with 9.5% among women who have low levels of THM (based on an average of five glasses of tap water per day). When we discussed the link between water quality and family health, women said that they were not allowed to go out to learn, nor had they been targeted for awareness-raising campaigns: "We do not know what the water quality is, and our men do not allow us to go out of Kur to participate in training courses," one woman said.
Access to knowledge and education in the context of rural life reflects gender inequity. This, in turn, clearly manifests itself in environment and water management and, finally, affects women's reproductive role.
In poor rural areas, food security is mainly dependent on women's subsistence production and their ability to produce enough to feed their families. The lack of access to clean water in this realm is a key reason for the high risk of waterborne diseases like diarrhea and parasitic infection. Waterborne diseases are associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. However, the question of gender roles in the environment and health does not appear to be a concern or a priority for women from Kur.
These poor health practices are related to biased social norms. Social norms in Kur limit or even prevent women from having access to health education and required environmental knowledge: "No, it is [shameful] to go to Nablus or Tulkarem city just to learn; it is taboo," the women said.
In addition, Kur is a marginalized area, and there is no interest in women's issues, water issues or awareness-raising.
As an extension of the women's reproductive role, their community role is represented in the activities undertaken by women at the community level, which is considered an effective tool in the socialization of others, such as children and other women. Here socialization means transferring knowledge. Women from Kur lack the necessary knowledge about water quality to be able to pass on useful information. One of the women said: "We do not know about water quality to tell others." As a result, water quality serves as an indicator of the deprivation of women of environmental education. It can be seen as a result, and therefore a measure, of women's subordination and gender inequity.
The presence of Total and Faecal bacteria, which is linked to sewage contamination and poor hygiene, in turn, is directly related to a lack of environmental knowledge and public awareness about water management and water quality. Ultimately, it means that people in Kur are denied safe drinking water. Lack of access to good quality water has wide-reaching adverse effects on both men's and women's livestock activities, production and health.
Regarding water quality in relation to health, most of the women (and the members of their households) in Kur are affected by different types of inborn water diseases. As traditional water users and custodians of family health, women have a double burden: biased gender roles and water of poor quality.
Perhaps more visible than in any other sector, gender relations in the water sector demonstrates the potential for tangible results in improving ownership, participation and ultimately efficacy and efficiency. Consideration of water quality is an important indicator of gender inequity because women's roles in water management are directly related to social roles.
Women's triple roles in rural areas are gender-biased and subject to social norms. Social roles in Kur prohibit women from gaining the necessary knowledge to carry out these roles in the safest and most productive way. At the same time, those same social norms emphasize the importance of the role of women in the dissemination of knowledge.
In conclusion, it is important to promote gender equity by involving both men and women in environmental education that is focused mainly on water and water quality in the context of rural life contributions. An adequate supply of clean and safe freshwater is vital to the survival of all living organisms and the smooth functioning of ecosystems, communities and economies. There are a range of integrated strategies to achieve this, from improving the understanding of water quality and communication and education around the issue, to applying a range of effective technologies. Involving women in environmental education will therefore grant recognition of their traditional knowledge and important role regarding sustainable water management.
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