Gender and Water Alliance

Working partnerships and combined approaches for improved water and sanitaiton services for the poor. Empowering experiences in Cali, Colombia

Presentation of GWA Steering Committee member Mariela Garcia Vargas at opening session of Stockholm World Water Week 2005.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The city of Santiago de Cali in Colombia has just over 2 million inhabitants, and sits on the banks of the River Cauca; one of two rivers that flow south to north through our country. The six rivers on which Cali is built are all tributaries of the River Cauca, providing a wealth of water which is not properly cared for.

The experiences (Altos de Menga, El Hormiguero, La Voragine, La Sirena) you will see in the video I am about to show illustrate work undertaken in the field of water supply and sanitation, aiming to make better use of this resource. They represent 20 years of work that the Cinara Institute at the Universidad del Valle has been carrying out in rural areas and peripheral urban zones, both in Colombia and in other Latin American countries. These experiences also demonstrate that water supply and sanitation are factors of development and key elements in the battle against poverty.

These images are not about how things should be; the technological solutions you will see have been in place for several years and are run by the communities themselves. They are the fruit of work with different government institutions and NGOs, carried out by interdisciplinary teams of men and women from different technical and social science fields. These professionals have built horizontal learning relationships with the communities.

Those who participated in this work were able to put themselves in the place of others and awaken their potential, so that the communities could strengthen their autonomy for decision making and action. They were aware that working with a community means taking into account women as well as men, children and young people as well as adults, and made sure that they recognised the key role of women in community development. They also ensured that the participants in the process did not just appropriate rational technical knowledge but also were able to cultivated their sensitivity and emotions. They knew that in most cases, it is emotion that leads to action and not rational discourses.

It should also be noted that in the joint work we have been doing with the Gender and Water Alliance since its creation, we have found that gender relations have been considered irrelevant in many water resource programmes and projects. Even projects that are not focused on technology and have worked on capacity building have not asked themselves whose capacities they are building: men’s? women’s? both? In addition, the issue of gender is not recognised in most policy on water resources and even less so in legislation, therefore it is still relevant to rescue cases that show its importance.

Finally, I would like to highlight some key elements in these experiences developed in river basins and sub-basins, for which hard technical knowledge and soft skills were equally important:

· Technological options have been adapted to the social, economic, cultural and environmental context of the users

· Technological solutions were decided with men and women, and they can operate, maintain and sustain them

· These communities have set up autonomous organisations that run the systems, in which both men and women participate

· Some of the communities have taken the idea of working with young men very seriously, in order to build a concept of masculinity which prizes a concern for solving community problems

· All of the case studies show that women, who are invisible in many projects, are the builders of more equitable and dignified lives

23 years ago, in this very city, Colombia’s best storyteller, Gabriel García Márquez, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Today I invite you to listen to a story told by women’s voices. These are mostly women that have not finished primary school, but who, with great intelligence, commitment and enthusiasm, have become leaders of their communities. They have all been, and still are, key players in their own development.

Training of trainers

Realisatie door Four Digits op basis van Plone.