#DayZero: What do women have to fear most during a water crisis?

Credit: iStock
Credit: iStock

Quick recap.

Siabatou Sanneh lives in a small village of Bullenghat in Gambia.

Every day, since the age of 5, Sanneh has walked 42 kms to collect water.

You might know Sanneh.

You may know her from newspaper coverage a couple of years ago when her story made newspaper headlines around the world.

The woman who walked a marathon for water everyday, like so many others, was given a face, a name and a new “challenge”.

On the 12th of April 2015, Sanneh left her home country for the first time in her life.

With the help of NGO Water for Africa, she made her way to the Paris marathon where she joined 54 000 runners.

Sanneh stood out, not because she didn’t run, but because as she walked, she carried a 20kg bucket of water on her head. The same one she carries daily at home to get clean, drinkable water for her family. 

The video went viral and it continues to raise money to build pumps in Gambia so that women can access fresh without leaving their families behind, risking their lives and walking a marathon… everyday.

300 people live in Sanneh’s village. While there is a problem with access to water, a life long struggle, there is however, no shortage.

Accessibility is not drought. 

READ MORE: 8 easy ways you can save water at home

Khayelitsha right here on our doorstep has been suffering for just as long.

Maybe its inhabitants don’t walk a marathon everyday but access to clean water and healthy sanitation has been an ongoing fight.

I’m specifically choosing Khayelitsha instead of a more direct rural comparison because it lies on our doorstep, right here in the Western Cape, where Day Zero looms large.

In the last ten years Khayelitsha’s population has risen from 400,000 to 2.4 million.

According to the Khayelitsha Project, 89% of the homes in South Africa’s biggest township are moderately to severely food insecure.

Food security is a result of poverty.

Poverty is an important variable in rising crime rates, violence, drugs and… violence against women.

Couple all of this with a drought and the statistics rise tenfold.

Girls as young as 11 or 12 years have been lured away from water collection points by older men in exchange for food stocks or money.

In an area already cheated by poor governmental decision making when it comes to clean water, sanitation, infrastructure, shelter and a fair chance at a good and meaningful livelihood the impact of drought seems pretty clear.

But while the country lets the facts slide because “these areas have been doing it for years” (not okay), none of the messaging is revealing the displacement and destruction the drought is going to cause for women and girls.

Who are already faced with less power and fewer decision-making opportunities.

It has been cited over and over again.

During times of disaster, drought specifically in this instance, it’s women who suffer most extremely in the aftermath. Gender discrimination escalates profoundly.

READ MORE: 16 things you can do for 16 Days of Activism

The severity of the Western Cape drought is a little bit more than middle class people queuing for their allocation every day.

It’s more than a fight in the aisle of a grocery store for that last bottle of mineral water.

It’s about the fact that we are ignoring the severe social and economic destruction this situation is going to cause to several township populations who are already fragile and fractured, economically threatened societies.

According to Action Aid, extreme social and economic stress worsens women’s and girls exposure to violence. The society breaks down further.

The gamble is water vs. justice, the odds of survival are a bloody dice.

The year is 2016. We’re in another neighbouring country, Mozambique.

The El Niño phenomenon has caused Maputo specifically to suffer the worst drought in 35 years.

The drought, led to hunger. As it does.

There is no messaging about drought devastation in lower economic households and areas.

A study by CARE International in Maputo revealed that without resources and education – a lot of teenagers and younger kids left school to help source and fetch water – many women resorted to something CARE calls survival sex or in some cases other forms of harmful and exploitative behavior in return for money, food and water.

“During our research we found that girls as young as 11 or 12 years have been lured away from water collection points by older men in exchange for food stocks or money.

Some of the girls discovered later that they are pregnant and are consequently stigmatized by the community and family,” the CARE report said.

According to the Global Water Partnership, it has been calculated that in South Africa alone, women collectively walk the equivalent distance of 16 times to the moon and back per day gathering water for families.

The messaging of Day Zero has focused on sustainable uses of water, sustainable living, tips on how to cook with less water, wash with less water, buy more water and use less water overall.

There is no messaging about drought devastation in lower economic households and areas.

Or the fact that most cultural norms dictate that women and girls eat last.

Their job is to survive and our job is to forget them, right?

There is no messaging on the struggle of sustainability when women receive 5% or less of agricultural rights and extension services (according to a study by the UN).

Or the fact that most cultural norms dictate that women and girls eat last.

When food and water are scarce, do they eat at all? ??

There is no messaging about the fact that women are the primary care-givers in the majority of homes in both underprivileged rural and urban areas.

They bear the brunt of caring for their ill families who are bound to fall victim to a host of water related illnesses reducing their time spent working.

Buying water?

For who?

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on W24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of W24. 

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