India’s water crisis: It is most acute for women

Source: Down to Earth

Relevance: Implications of water crisis on women

Synopsis: Water crisis affects women disproportionately compared to men. An analysis

Context

India has 16% of the world’s population, but possesses only 4% of the world’s freshwater resources. India is water-stressed due to changing weather patterns and repeated droughts. And the worst sufferers of this crisis are mostly women.

Extent of water stress in India
  • According to data from Central Ground Water Board, as many as 256 of 700 districts in India have reported ‘critical’ or ‘over-exploited’ groundwater levels, which means the water table has significantly dropped in these districts
  • India has become the world’s largest extractor of groundwater, accounting for 25% of the total.
  • 70% of our water sources are contaminated, and our major rivers are dying because of pollution.
Water crisis and women

This crisis of water puts women at a higher risk of vulnerability, since fetching water in India has been perceived as a woman’s job for centuries. They need to walk miles to collect water from the nearest source. Water crisis impacts women in the following ways:

  • Affecting their participation in education, occupation and labor force, since they need to spend more time on water collection.
  • Increasing marginalization since water crisis affects their access to toilets, leading to indignity and insecurity
  • Affects their labour force participation
  • Promoting polygamy– there are increasing instances of polygamy in drought prone regions which is termed as ‘water wives’
  • Reduces access to clean sanitation, better physical and mental health of women
  • Leads to social oppression as it creates social issues like a lower level of literacy in women since many girls drop out of school to collect water.
Way forward

It is important to make central and state policies dealing with the water crisis. More emphasis should be given to gender inequality rather than gender sensitization and gender roles associated with water need to be ended.

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