The Struggle for Water Justice is a Struggle for Gender and Racial Justice

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The Struggle for Water Justice is a Struggle for Gender and Racial Justice

Susan Spronk

The essay is published in honour of World Water Day, which has been held every year on March 22 since 1993. The goal of this day is to celebrate water and raise awareness of the 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water. Check out the Alternative World Water Forum (AWWF) – in French, the Forum Alternatif Mondial de l’Eau (FAME) for a calendar of events.

COVID-19 has exposed deep, structural inequalities in the world today along the lines of class, gender and race – between well-resourced and precarious workers, women and men, racialized... and non-racialized people. The lenses of gender justice and environmental racism help us understand how the inter-related histories of colonialism and capitalism have created the unequal world that we live in, entrenching inequalities in the built environment as clearly evidenced by access to water and sanitation. The pandemic also creates an opportunity to refocus efforts on Universal Basic Services as one way to exit this crisis.

The lack of access to basic water and sanitation is one of these inequalities that maps along the lines of race, class and gender. Yet in 2017, 3 billion people still lacked basic hand-washing facilities at home: 1.6 billion had limited facilities lacking soap or water and 1.4 billion had no facility at all (UNICEF and WHO 2019). Unsurprisingly, this deficit affects primarily the poor in the underdeveloped zones of the world economy, particularly poor women and girls who are tasked with procuring water in communities that do not have access to an improved water source or sanitation.

In order to understand and address these inequalities, we need to examine how power and inequality are structured differently for historically oppressed groups created by capitalism and colonialism. Achieving a water justice that contributes to gender and racial justice requires more than just reform of institutions to broaden representation the representation of women and other political minorities. It requires a rethink of the for-profit system that threatens the ecology, a redistribution of wealth and power, and massive public investment in ‘Universal Basic Services.’

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