International Collaboration for Women’s Water Security

April 08, 2020
Shows Maria Kawahara, the RSCN team and participants in the focus group of Mukaibah Al Tahta village near the Yarmouk Nature Reserve in the Irbid Governorate of Jordan in December 2018.

Written by Teghan Acres

The Pacific Water Research Centre (PWRC) addresses water issues on a variety of scales. This ranges from working with local communities, to studying challenges that span across regions. Maria Kawahara has had the chance to experience both of these as part of her engagement at the PWRC. Her work as a research assistant took her to Lebanon for multi-national collaboration and her Master’s research brought her to Jordan for local field research.  

Kawahara completed a Bachelor of Science in Geography at the University of Victoria before arriving at SFU. She volunteered on Vancouver Island doing community-focused water monitoring during her undergrad years where she remembers being amazed by that project because it empowered residents to take care of their water resources. This experience built a passion for fieldwork and addressing water issues. She is now pursuing a Master’s in Resource Management where her research focuses on women and water security in Jordan.  

In addition to her studies, she worked as a research assistant on the PWRC’s  ‘Addressing Gender, Water Security and Peacebuilding Nexus in the Arab Region’ project. This research explores the water security-gender-peace nexus in the Arab region and strengthening national capacities for integrating water security and gender approaches into their respective development plans pertaining to the Sustainable Development Goals.  

In 2015, approximately 51 million people living in the Arab region were without access to a basic drinking water service, with a vast majority (73%) living in rural areas. Women in many Middle Eastern countries are identified as the most vulnerable to water insecurity. This means that they are more likely to lack safe access to clean water. In particular, this affects female refugees and refugee households headed by women. These women are the main water managers and are responsible for collecting, storing and using water for their families. They can be disproportionately exposed to harassment, intimidation and violence while securing water. This situation has been worsened by years of conflict in the Arab region that has contributed to the destruction of infrastructure and the contamination of water resources.  

As a research assistant, Kawahara travelled to Beirut, Lebanon in 2018 to participate in the UN Symposium on Women and Water Security for Peacebuilding in the Arab Region. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) organized the symposium in collaboration with the PWRC and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA). The forum aimed to explore strategies, policies, frameworks, and programs in support of a number of Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., SDG3 for good health and wellbeing, SDG5 for gender equality, SDG6 for safe water and sanitation and, SDG16 on peace, justice and strong institutions.  

The symposium drew the conclusions that

  • women must be accounted for as a diverse group in water security solutions (refugee women, rural women, etc.), and
  • enhanced opportunities can empower women to be agents of change in the water security and peacebuilding realm.   

The discussions at this symposium laid the groundwork for Kawahara’s research in Jordan. Her Master’s research focuses on engaging women in water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) education and water conservation to enhance water security. Water security and WaSH are interconnected because without a secure and clean water source, communities may be forced to compromise their health and hygiene.  

Jordan has made significant improvements to WaSH services over the past few decades. However, the country faces significant WaSH-related challenges due to extreme water shortages. Jordan is among the world's ten most water-deprived countries and is reported to have one of the lowest water availability per capita. The Jordanian government has recognized women's important role in water management and has been actively partnering with both local and international groups to deliver water-related programs for women.

Kawahara is collaborating with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) which is an independent national organization that works to conserve and protect Jordan’s natural resources. The RSCN has created water-related educational projects and awareness projects operating in both refugee and resident communities. Workshops designed for women are conducted to increase awareness of water challenges in Jordan and provide education on sustainable water management and hygiene practices.

Waterbody in Yarmouk Nature Reserve, credit: Ali Hazaimeh
Yarmouk Nature Reserve, credit: Wild Jordan

Kawahara’s Master’s research project focuses on villages residing within the Yarmouk Nature Reserve, located in the northern regions of Jordan. The objective of the research project was to identify gaps in knowledge and education for WASH. The study also applied a gender lens in order to better understand the perceptions and gaps in knowledge for water-use behaviours of women and girls in the area. Together with a RSCN team, Kawahara  travelled to villages that have limited water resources and unsecure access to clean water. The project organized group dialogues where Kawahara was able to learn from women and men about the water-related challenges their households are facing. The level of access to clean water and hygiene resources varied between villages, with some participants describing not having enough water for drinking or washing meaning families are forced to compromise hygiene to meet their basic needs. The RSCN is working to integrate water conservation and management in this area as well as build awareness and capacity around sustainable water use. They hope to ensure long-term conservation of the area’s water resources. Learn more at the RSCN website.

The PWRC’s work on this project is still ongoing and will help to achieve multiple policy-relevant outcomes such as developing ways for women to be recognized as agents of change and ways to effectively achieve community health mobilization. Visit the PWRC’s website to learn more and read our discussion paper and policy brief that resulted from the UN symposium. 

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We respectfully acknowledge that the PWRC operates on the unceded traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.