Women absent in water politics

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Women absent in water politics
Oluşturulma Tarihi: Ocak 26, 2009 00:00

ANKARA - Women’s role in water management should be strengthened both in households and at the political level, especially in a patriarchal society such as Turkey where the majority of women have been given secondary social roles, according to environmental engineer Arzu Özyol.

Women play the largest role in utilizing water resources but have the smallest role in policies relating to water management, according to environmental engineer Arzu Özyol.

"It is women who have a more instinctive knowledge and experience in the management of the ecosystem, compared to men, but they have the smallest role in shaping environmental policies. It is women who make the maximum use of water in their daily lives but they have no role in the decision making processes of water management," Özyol said. Özyol is the Turkey representative of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, or BPW, and has undertaken doctoral studies on the importance of participation, including the involvement of women, in the formation of environmental policies. The relationship between women and water management will be open for discussion at the 5th World Water Forum to be held in Istanbul from March 16 to 22. Özyol, likewise, plans to highlight the importance of women's involvement in water policies with the participation of women, the real users of water, in the forum where she will take part as BPW’s representative.

Women play an important role in water management. It is mostly women who are providers, users and managers of water in the household in daily life through many activities, such as laundering, cooking, cleaning and maintaining sanitation. It is also mostly women in many societies, including Turkey, who have taken part in agricultural activities, such as utilizing irrigation in rural areas, according to Özyol.

Women have knowledge but no role
"Because of these roles, women have considerable knowledge and abilities when it comes to water management, which actually make them natural components of water and environmental policies," Özyol said.

"The influence of women on environmental policies contributes to sustainable development, but in Turkey, neither environmental policies nor the involvement of women in the decision making process on these issues are a priority."

A link between women’s involvement in environmental policies and sustainable development began to be established in the world after the 1970s. In the 1960s, it was understood that radical changes were needed in social and economic spheres to overcome environmental problems. In the 1970s, awareness was raised about these issues and rational concepts, such as the deep ecology, environmental ethics and the social and political movement of eco-feminism, emerged.

Eco-feminists argued that capitalist and patriarchal systems sought to dominate and exploit women and nature. Environmental problems cannot be solved with an approach that excludes women in development policies, eco- feminists said.

It was revealed that environmental corruption was creating poverty and also that there was a relationship between women, the environment and poverty. It was similarly women who suffered the most from poverty and environmental problems as they were traditionally managers of water resources.

With this historical background, women and the environment have been given a special emphasis since the 1980s. International meetings, especially those led by the United Nations, of which Turkey has attended, and also those of European Countries, attributed special importance to social and gender equality in shaping sound environmental policies and sustainable development.

"Many countries have taken an important step in this respect but in Turkey the laws and their implementation have failed to encourage the participation of women in policies relating to the environment and water. Women's policy decisions have been implemented in the West, where there are sanctions. But they have not been implemented in Turkey, where there is no legal basis for sanctions," Özyol noted.

Women’s role in water management should be strengthened both in the households and at the political level, especially in a patriarchal societies such as Turkey, where women have been given secondary social roles, Özyol said. As an advocate of the eco-feminist movement, Özyol said education, raising awareness and giving the right message using the right methods was vital. Female representation in environment-related policy making bodies should be increased and women should be encouraged to receive education in environmental fields. While the lack of commitment by the government was one of the major factors that had weakened the involvement of women in decision making processes on environmental issues, the media and nongovernmental organizations had a crucial role in raising awareness in this respect.

Maximizing women’s role in water management

"The number of female parliamentarians is already limited. It is even more interesting that women who entered parliament did not feel obliged to increase their role in environmental policies. In some other decision making processes, meanwhile, male specialists are preferred to women due to excuses such as pregnancy," Özyol said.

The local administrations’ authority should be strengthened and some commissions involving representatives from different disciplines should be established in local institutions to maximize women in water management, she said. The public should be well-informed about ecosystems and different messages should be disseminated to different target audiences such as women who work in rural areas, intellectual woman and less-educated women about the importance of women in water politics.

"There is no need for a big rhetoric. The message that the more they are engaged in water management, the more they contribute to the economy of their households should be given to women," she said. "And female programs and serials on TV play even more of a role than any scientific conference on this matter. Women do not forget the messages on these programs."

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