Rwanda: Involving Women in Water conservation is key to Sustainable Development
By Ange de la Victoire DUSABEMUNGU
Experts in the management and use of water resources believe that a woman’s role is incomparable, as it is often found that when there is lack of water it is mainly the woman who suffers the most.
In the majority of countries in Africa, women and girls are burdened with the mandatory duty of securing water at long distances sometimes going above 5km.
In some cases, such as Rwanda, it is a norm for the females in society to take up this responsibility at a very 12 years old and even below.
In 2019, Rwanda’s female population amounted to approximately 6.42 million, while the male population amounted to approximately 6.21 million inhabitants.
It is obvious that the population in Rwanda continues to grow, so does the use of water in Rwanda, which is why there is a need for better management and sustainable use of the said vital resources.
Rwanda has so far made efforts to find a lasting solution to water management and use, which has led to the establishment of a special Water Resources Board to ensure the availability of enough and well managed water resources for sustainable development.
Rwanda in collaboration with the Kingdom of the Netherlands explores ways to share experience in the use and management of water resources in terms of water conservation in four major reservoirs namely Muvumba Catchment, Nyabugogo Catchment, Nyabarongo Catchment and and Sebeya Catchment.
In view of this approach to focusing on the 4 most important Catchments that play a major role in the country’s water self-sufficiency, the role of the Woman has often been considered as it has often been found to be the most vulnerable when there is a shortage of water for domestic use, in agriculture and in livestock and other socio-economic areas.
For instance, according to information retrieved from Sebeya Catchment Management Plan (2018-2024), Gender statistics indicate a slightly higher female population (56%), with 55% (both men and women) aged below 20 (EICV4).
These figures can help anyone understand the importance of helping and encouraging women in the catchment to take part in activities aimed at conserving the Sebeya River because it is the key to the development of the region.
As an example, developing new terracing and agroforestry projects on a larger scale with focus on sustainable agricultural practices and involving community and support to women and men farmers have played a role in the enhancement of the productivity of the agriculture value chain through erosion control measures in Sebeya catchment.
Empowering Women in water management
In a similar fashion, the national rice policy calls for the development and management of water through a participatory approach, involving users, planners, and policy makers at all levels.
Likewise, the gender policy sets out key objectives to ensure empowerment of women in various sectors, including environment protection and land use management.
However, despite women being involved and empowered at community level, many farmers and other rural water users, especially women, are illiterate and this poses a challenge for their involvement in training and service provision, which are modelled to benefit literate farmers/water users.
Experts note that policies and implementation programmes should be geared towards reaching these under-privileged target groups.
Rwanda’s Water Resources Management Plan (IWRM, 2017) also identifies gender as a cross cutting theme of prime importance, women being 52.5% of the total Rwandan population and key actors in water usage, supply and management.
The Water Resources Management Gender strategy (2017) recommends ensuring equal access and participation, control, women’s empowerment and equitable benefits from the water resource programme of measures.
Women likely to speak about the Water Management benefits
Of course, the reason why a woman often takes the lead in expressing interest in activities that are aimed at managing water resources is as explained earlier. She is the one who suffers most when there is a shortage of Water for domestic, livestock and agriculture use.
Recently, when our correspondent visited residents of Western Province, especially in Rutsiro and Ngororero districts, he was able to talk to various women about the impact of the project aiming to protect Secoko River which feeds its water into Nyabarongo River to generate electricity for the region.
In addition to the good management of the Secoko River, which provides electricity to the homes in the area, women interviewed by our correspondent also showed the other benefits of protecting the river.
Mukasano Gaudance, the Executive Secretary of Nyange Sector in Ngororero District, said that due to the damage to the Secoko River, the consequences have been devastating.
“In early 2017, in many sectors of Ngororero district such as Nyange and Ndaro, the people had severely deforested the area to produce cooking charcoal. Livestock and farming has taken over all the banks of the river, while mining has been at the forefront to cause severe erosion.
The consequences have been severe, with the population beginning to suffer from erosion, their fields and crops being flooded, landslides, and roads, and other infrastructure destruction”
In 2019, the Government of Rwanda, through its Rwanda Water Resources Board (RWB) in partnership with the Water for Growth whose activities after closure was shifted to the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with the support of the Dutch Embassy in Rwanda, a project has been launched to protect the Secoko dam in collaboration with the Rutsiro and Ngorero districts.
In addition to the fact that the project is having a positive impact on the lives of the people in general, women in particular are witnessing it in their own way.
Uwimana Dativa, one of those employed people in the project, said that the project’s activities have improved and protected their land.
“The Secoko River was flooding and bringing all the erosion here to the community, many of us years ago have lost our livestock. We came to hear that a project had come to preserve this river, and we were given jobs. I myself was given the job of caring for the fruit trees, and my husband was given the job of planting forests. I am grateful to this project because the money I and my husband benefited was used to buy cow, and even today we are going to harvest fruits that we will supply to the markets while at same time helping to fight malnutrition at home”
This clearly shows that cooperation between Men and women in activities aimed at contributing to water management is very important as it increases the productivity of the two from the planned projects which also increases economic and social well-being at household’s level.
Rwandan women in environmental protection
In addition to our focus on Water Resources, Rwandan women have been instrumental in protecting the environment at various levels.
In a recent Twitter session organized by the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), women at various levels revealed that women have been involved in environmental protection since many years ago until now.
Rose Mukankomeje, the Former Director General of REMA and current Director General of High Education Council (HEC) said “Women in Rwanda are part of the leadership of this country. Today we thank HE the President of Rwanda who has given us this opportunity to contribute to the sustainable development of Rwanda, to green economy”
Commenting on the past achievement, Dr. Mukankomeje added “During that period, as the rural woman has just got the right to land, they were proud to be part of the solutions. Today, all of us we are witness of the clean Rwanda”, this is part of the role of Rwandan woman”
For Juliet Kabera, the current Director General of REMA “Women leaders can play an important role by mentoring the next generation and leading by example. Male leaders also need to ensure they are creating the space for everyone to achieve their potential, no matter their gender.”
She added that “Rwandan women are ingenious in solving complex challenges. Let’s embrace the agility and skills of women to invest in circular economy businesses, embrace the digital economy and ensure women are at the forefront of utilising the Economic Recovery Fund.”
Mrs. Kabera was responding to question on some of the key opportunities/options that can help Rwanda’s green recovery and build back better from COVID relying on women influence and creativity