Verhoef-Cohen: Better results when women involved in water management

By Marta Montojo

Stockholm, Sep 2 (EFE).- Women represent only 17% of the water sector worldwide, although they have a “huge connection” with water management: in many countries they are the ones who fetch water and who are responsible for tasks that depend on the vital liquid resource.

Dutch researcher Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, president of the Women for Water Partnership (WfWP) initiative, spoke with EFE about women in the water sector, stressing that “it is important to listen to women” and involve them in the decision-making process and management to combat the water crisis.

Verhoef-Cohen, who traveled to Stockholm to attend World Water Week – the international conference that the Swedish capital is hosting this week to discuss how to tackle the challenges facing water – maintains that, although progress has been made, gender stereotypes continue to hinder the inclusion of women in the water sector.

She calls for the training of women not only in administrative positions in water companies but also in technical jobs such as plumbers, which are still highly dominated by men, and argues that this will lead to greater access.

There are countries where, for example, cultural norms do not allow men to enter other people’s homes if there is no man present, she explained, and since it is women who are at home most of the time, Verhoef-Cohen said this prevents many families from solving water problems.

But women can always enter other people’s homes whether men are present or not, she said, and asked, “If there is a plumbing problem, why aren’t women sent in?”

According to studies carried out by her organization, gender stereotypes mean that women are not valued as highly as men for water-related professions and, when they are accepted, they are relegated to office jobs, where they also stay, on average, fewer years than men.

Precisely when women are in charge, especially in the Global South, of managing water – fetching it, washing, cooking, and in many cases also maintaining crops – “it is not right for men to say what is needed in the water sector, while women are very capable of doing it,” she said.

World Water Week demands a “gold standard” from participants: to organize a panel discussion at the event, at least 40% of the speakers must be women, and at least one of them must be under 35 years of age.

This gives the impression that nearly half of the people in the sector who are specialists or in senior positions in water companies are women, yet they still account for less than 20% of the sector.

Verhoef-Cohen advocates the 40-40 rule, which proposes that, for example, at least 40% of the members of a board of directors should be women, 40% should be men, and the remaining 20% can be chosen by either of the two groups.

“The research we have done shows the success of organizations where women are at the decision-making table, where women are on the board, and are involved, the results are much better,” she said.

Verhoef-Cohen commented, for example, on a project led in Bolivia by only women, some of them indigenous, which ended up being exported and which, according to the expert, showed that “women had experience, that they knew about water” and that, in the case of indigenous women, they knew even more because “they have been doing this for centuries.” EFE


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