Gender specific interventions aimed to guarantee the provision and access to water and sanitation services are getting worldwide media attention. Indigenous peoples everywhere relate to water as sacred. In today’s context, enabling access to water and sanitation for Indigenous women and girls is an engaging and pressing issue with more and more awareness on the need for the communities to be given the prospect to improve their living conditions and quality of life.
Nagaland based Sisterhood Network, an NGO for women empowerment and community development, recently partnered with Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development in organising a national consultation on the significance of access to water and sanitation for women and girls. Academics, public policy researchers and members of civil society were part of the consultation, which according to the Sisterhood Network, primarily focused on making contribution to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commitment by India through enabling access to water and sanitation for Indigenous women and girls in Nagaland state.
Following the fundamental of Indigenous research paradigm to establish correlation, a member of the Naga women community shared her experience and relationship with water, its importance, intervention programmes and the way forward. In her case study, Thongwangliu, President of Women’s Society, Samziuram village in Peren district, Nagaland contextualised the gender aspect of Water Supply & Sanitation Systems, Water & Sanitation programme.
She shared the importance of water and sanitation for women and girl’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and the need for strengthening delivery of water and sanitation in villages to contribute in reducing the burden of women and girl, improving their well-being and livelihood as it is mostly women and girls who fetch the water. Voicing her concern, she pointed out that Samziuram village experiences water scarcity every year and remains dry from January to May, and 2023 is the worst hit. The lack of availability of quality water is making lives miserable due to loss of livelihood, strained relationships in families as they fight for water, children missing schools due to water scarcity and pushing people in debt. Putting forward the case of the scared relationship between Indigenous women and water, she asserted that responsibility and guardianship of water can change by conscious involvement of women in water governance.
Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Pedro Arrojo-Agudo presenting the report on opportunities and challenges on water rights for Indigenous communities during the Human Rights Council 2022 stated that water is essential to the identity of Indigenous women, their cultural traditions, spiritual practices, knowledge and wellness. The report says Indigenous women and girls protect water bodies from pollution, care for the forests and plant trees, plants and herbs to maintain the ability of the soil to absorb and retain water.
The Naga people are deeply rooted in the insight and understanding of Indigenous knowledge and perhaps, this significant truth can pave the way for Indigenous women and girls in Nagaland state to resolve some complex challenges like equality, inclusiveness, entitlement and thus, chart a new course to reach the rightful place.
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