2015 UN-Water Annual International Zaragoza Conference. Water and Sustainable Development: From Vision to Action. 15-17 January 2015

Interviewing Alice Bouman-Dentener, Women for Water Partnership

Ms. Alice Bouman-Dentener, Honorary Founding President of Women for Water Partnership (WfWP)

Alice Bouman-Dentener

What are your expectations for the Zaragoza Conference as a tool for implementing the water related SDGs?
That the role of civil society in achieving the water goal is strengthened and the gender-water-development nexus is acknowledged for its potential to drive changes from within.

What are the main challenges for implementing sustainable water for all?
We have many success stories, from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. They all start with positioning women – through our WfWP member organisations – as agents of change in their communities, regions and countries. A strong civil society brings changes from within.

Civil society groups are Women, Youth, Indigenous organizations and NGOs. In WfWP we unite the women’s Major Group, that’s our niche. We strengthen them so they themselves can work with the technical people and the engineers and authorities on an equal footing. In many projects I’ve seen, the engineers and project managers think that they have consulted the local population. But if you go in there as an external person and you do one or two workshops, this is not consultation, let alone participation. Often the few people consulted don’t represent the community at large because the poor are not usually allowed in; and if women are present, at best they serve the tea. Our process ensures that the local groups are really empowered to have inputs, and this takes time. Technicians and external NGOs cannot really do this. The good thing is once these groups are empowered, their neighbouring villages see the success and it sparks an interest. The Tegemeo women have become an example for the whole area and the district authorities are interested in partnering with them to upscale this success. And this is when you really accelerate implementation. The bottom up movement can make the changes from within."

One of the shortcomings of the MDGs was an emphasis on delivery and overlooking the underlying causes of poverty and inequality. The position paper of UN Women on the SDGs gives a good analysis with respect to gender equality.

Access to information is crucial to empowerment. But if you have information without social status to do something with it, it will still not happen. The technology is only a means. The empowerment is key. This is a process that takes years and is therefore often ignored because those in power want to see quick solutions, especially if there’s an election involved. Most people only see the pipe, not what is behind it.

Water cooperation is cooperation between stakeholders that have common but differentiated responsibilities (one of the Rio Principles). An important role of governments is to provide services to their people. But what do they provide? If we have a right to water and sanitation does it mean we can all sit back and wait until the government brings it to us? I would say not. Rights come with responsibilities. The government has to provide the framework and the enabling environment. And we altogether in our different roles have to make it happen. We have to make sure we don’t squander the water or ruin the ecosystems. That’s the common responsibility. Women, youth, government, the water sector, the business community… they have different roles in making this happen.

If I look at the gender goal and the water goal [of the SDGs] the aspect of participation is crucial to making the post-2015 development agenda a success. In the Dublin principles and other international agreements women have been given a central role in the provision, safeguarding and managing the water. The full and equal participation of women in decision making and in community development is included in the current goals and targets. We have to make sure it stays in there. But that is not enough; it has to be more than words. In reality, some partners are more equal than others. If in a partnership one partner is more equal than the other then the one without the power is not a partner, but is a target group at best. If you want to make it work you have to invest in the empowerment of people. It’s very often not a given that when you get the women on board they can actually do something. Because circumstances are not there, they don’t have any means to attend the meeting, and when they attend they have no right to speak. All these circumstances take an investment. So by the time you want to work with them they are ready. And this is the main trait of the Women for Water Partnership. We need to see civil society strengthened, so the women can be there from the beginning as an equal partner – otherwise things will never change.

The Water for Life Decade has this approach inherent in it. And the Water for Life Decade has done a lot to help the Women for Water Partnership to articulate women’s participation. We have the results to show that it works. We’re not there yet. I truly hope the Water for Life Decade will be properly assessed so we can learn from it and incorporate the lessons learnt to reach the SDGs.

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About the Conference

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>> Accommodation
>> Travelling to Zaragoza
>> Your stay in Zaragoza
>> Map

The vision

>> Rio+20
>> Water and sustainable development
>> Global commitments on water
>> A post-2015 global goal for water
>> Water and the Open Working Group (OWG)
>> The role of actors involved

The action

>> Capacity development
>> Financing and economic instruments
>> Governance frameworks
>> Technology

Action on…

>> Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
>> Water Resources Management
>> Water Quality
>> Risk management

14 January: Pre-Conference Side events and Technical Visits

>> Technical visit: La Cartuja
>> Technical visit: The Ebro River Basin Authority and its Automatic System for Hydrologic Information (SAIH)
>> Technical visit: Expo + Water Park
>> New sources: Wastewater reuse
>> Local level actions in decentralized water solidarity towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals
>> Water Footprint Assessment
>> Technological advances and Water Policy
>> Cultivando Agua Boa Programme
>> CODIA and water and energy in LAC
>> The fulfillment of the human right to water and sanitation

15 January: Setting the scene and the context

>> Achieving sustainable water for all in LAC
>> Achieving water security for Asia and the Pacific
>> Ensuring implementation of the water-related SDGs in Europe
>> Setting the scene

16 January: Whose action?

>> Academia
>> Business
>> Civil society
>> Governments and local authorities
>> Media and Communicators

17 January: Integrating knowledge and the way forward

>> Multi-stakeholder dialogue on tools for implementation


>> Cases
>> Conference daily
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>> Information briefs on Water and Sustainable Development
>> Interviewing conference participants
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