UNESCO reiterates call for gender-transformative policies in water domain

scientist collecting a water sample for analysis

Gender equality remains out of reach in the water domain. ‘Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water’, observed Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, on 11 February, ‘yet they make up less than 17% of the total paid workforce in the water sector and an even smaller minority in research and decision-making positions’. She was speaking at an event organized at United Nations headquarters in New York to mark this year’s International Day for Women and Girls in Science.

The theme of the 7th International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly was Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Water Unites Us. It brought together women in science and experts from around the world, high-level government officials, representatives of international organizations and of the private sector to discuss the water nexus in achieving the three pillars of sustainable development, namely economic prosperity, social justice and environmental integrity.

In her address, Shamila Nair-Bedouelle stressed that achieving gender equality in the water sector would be essential to reaching both the fifth Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality and the sixth one on water and sanitation.

The combined effects of the climate crisis and water crisis are deepening inequalities and increasing poverty. To break the cycle, we need to ensure that women and girls study science and engineering in the same proportions as their male counterparts. We also need to ensure that, once women graduate and integrate the workforce, their workplace is free of stereotyping or discrimination. This will take transformative policies.
Shamila Nair-Bedouelle Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, UNESCO

In order to foster water policies that are truly gender-transformative, one needs data to understand the situation on the ground. One solution presented during the event was a toolkit developed by UNESCO’s World Water Assessment Programme to assist governments in collecting gender-disaggregated water-related data to inform their transformative water policies.

Dr Nair-Bedouelle invited participants to join the World Water Assessment Programme’s Call for Action to Accelerate Gender Equality in the Water Domain. This wake-up call was issued last year to advocate for women having an equal voice in water-related decision-making and, more generally, being empowered in the water sector.

We must do better. Not only because gender equality is a human right but also because gender equality in general and especially in the water domain will be one of the building blocks of a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will define the new work order, which is why UNESCO has prioritised STEM and science education for girls
Shamila Nair-Bedouelle Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, UNESCO

She mentioned the work that UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme was doing to train women professionals. UNESCO is currently training women who work in the water management sector how to interpret satellite images, for example, so that can forecast when and where a climate-related event such as a flood or drought will strike and, thereby, ensure that appropriate measures can be taken in advance.

Over the next eight years, the focus of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme will be on Science for a Water-Secure World in a Changing Environment’ with emphasis on training female water professionals.

‘We need science and we need more women in science,’ concluded Dr Nair-Bedouelle. ‘Science and water are universal languages uniting people and nations. Every drop counts!’

The event was co-organized by the Royal Academy of Science International Trust and the Permanent Missions to the United Nations of Cyprus, Kenya, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Rwanda, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Tajikistan.