By Sakshi Saini, Senior Program Officer, PRIA
No matter which region or state or socio-economic strata one visits, the plight of women remains the same. The only variation is that they face the brunt of all these socially ascribed roles in a different cultural setting. As part of the SLB connect program which aims at engaging citizens in collecting, analysing and communicating feedback to service providers through mobile technology based survey, I got the chance to visit some of the districts of Rajasthan, where our team visited both formal and informal settlements. I was quite excited to be exposed to new dynamics of these areas. Although after talking to the women from the community I realised that other than the change in cultural and socio-economic status, the role of women in the community remains the same. She is the one responsible for accession and management of resources required to run a household and ensure proper functioning of the household. These women put in substantial time and effort in organising such things. The economic status of the household might help her fulfilling these roles, which also means that it is the poor women who are more vulnerable due to diminishing resource availability.
It is estimated that one fourth of the urban Indian population is poor. The poor who cannot afford adequate housing for themselves live in different types of urban poor settlements where they have limited access to basic services such as reliable water supply and clean sanitation facilities. As per Urban Poverty Report 2009, urban poverty in India is over 25 percent; some 81 million people live in urban areas surviving on incomes that are below the poverty line. Women residing in these informal settlements face challenges with lack of proper water and sanitation facilities. They spend quality time and a large portion of their monthly income in accessing them. It is they who are impacted most due to their socially ascribed roles and responsibilities for attainment and management of resources and services such as water and sanitation. This takes a toll on the time they can spend on income generation and other productive activities. Sapna one of the residents from phoos ka bangla, an informal settlement in Jaipur pointed out that she spends 2-3 hrs daily in accessing and managing water. She mentioned that at times she is forced to take help from her daughter in acquiring water for the entire family. In spite of all her efforts to ensure that her daughter’s education doesn’t suffer, at times Sapna has to let her daughter miss out on school so that she can help her with household chores specially collecting water for the family. It has become routine that women and children (especially girls) end up wasting their productive time in managing basic amenities, which if readily available will help in saving time, which can further be used in economically productive activities. It’s not just income that these women lose out on, women are even cutting down on leisure activities, child care, girls are missing out on education and career development, which are important aspects in leading a healthy and holistic life. Moreover many women report incidents of eve-teasing on their way to water sources. They are subjected to lot of humiliation and insensitivity, with hardly any assistance from the family members.
It’s not just the scarce quantity of water but even the deteriorated quality of water that manifests its impact on women’s life. Deteriorated water quality is one of the major causing agents of diseases in our country. As more family members fall ill, the care-providing burden manifests itself. Women pay physical, psychological and economic toll in order to fulfill the socially ascribed responsibility of fetching and managing water. With the increasing stress on water resources this manifestation of gender inequality may further exacerbate the existing gender inequalities in society.
Several steps, including institutional, financial and behavioral changes are required to ensure safe and easy access to water supply. Moreover, the gender perspective of the problem needs to be understood as women suffer the most as a result of the problems arising due to lack of access to water.