April 2017 ED Message: Women, Water, and Human Rights

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March was the month to really celebrate women and their role in the human rights movements around the globe. In addition to being Women’s History Month, March calls for the honor and recognition of International Women of Colour Day (March 1), International Women’s Day (March 8) and World Water Day (March 22). The annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) gathering at the United Nations in New York, also held in March, was nothing short of inspirational this year.  This year’s  CSW theme was women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.  

Participating in formal sessions and official side events held by civil society groups like USHRN member Black Women’s Blueprint, confirmed that the work women lead, anchor, and birth is at its essence is an advancement of human rights. From the African continent to the Pacific Islands women-led conversations on the economic empowerment brought to the forefront the impact that this new climate reality is having on the changing world of work for women. Women play a critical role in helping their communities mitigate and adapt to climate change, yet the lack of legal protections and participation in the formal economy add to what can make women vulnerable in more frequent climate crises. And not surprisingly, a main theme in conversations connecting climate change to economy, work and women was the role of water in each of our communities.  

In honor of World Water Day, and in honor of the women working build a people-centered human rights movement, USHRN held a civil society event at the 2017 CSW gathering. The event featuring U.S. and global perspectives on gender equity and the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation, and specifically how climate change affects women’s work and economic empowerment. Water is what connects the issues facing single households led by Black women in eastern North Carolina working with the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network to the realities of tribal women in northern California in the Winnenem Wintu Tribe. It is what creates solutions around climate, water, and women being led by women in Alabama with the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise and in Tunisia with Acacias for All.

The event featured a powerhouse panel examining current and future climate change-related migration, displacement, and planned relocation efforts, and the disproportionate and unique impact on low-income women, women of color, and Indigenous women. The event explored these realities, examined solutions, and offered a healing space for women dealing with the impact of climate change.

Water, as it turns out, is what connects all of us to each other - literally. The state of water on this planet is often the state of women in our communities. Where water is free flowing, honored, and healthy - so too are the women.  Where water is blocked, polluted, and devalued - so too are the women. She is a powerful force, and when affirmed as a human right, sustains life.