‘She’s most vulnerable’

WAF community engagement officer Alisi Senikuta speaking at the panel discussion last Wednesday. She says poor water supply affects lactating mothers and menstrual hygiene. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU

Women in rural and informal communities are often the most vulnerable when it comes to access to safe and adequate water supply.

There are a host of factors that women, especially, find difficult to contend with in the face of short supply of what can be sometimes a scarce resource.

To allow women to have a voice in matters concerning them when it comes to water access, provisions were made under the Rural Water and Sanitation Policy to ensure women were participating in water committees set up in specific communities.

During a panel discussion celebrating World Water Day, Water Authority of Fiji (WAF) community engagement officer Alisi Senikuta shared some of the experiences her team had come across.

“We’ve gone out into communities, having to go face to face with the water disruptions that we’re facing, and the issues and how it impacts our community members,” she said.

“One of the things we’ve found out is with this poor water supply. It affects lactating mothers, it affects menstrual hygiene, it increases the risk of spread of water-borne diseases, increases the risk of spread of skin diseases and it also affects productivity at work.

“Also school students, because of no water, they will opt not to go to school. For work, if there’s no water, you will not want to go to work, affecting income earnings in individual families.

“Poor water supply and sanitation are also contributing to violence and abuse so you see with the decision to conserve water, it’s a holistic approach. We look at all the factors, all its impacts and then we decide on whether to conserve water or not.”

She said WAF worked in rural areas, including informal settlements, to highlight these issues and ensure equal gender participation when it came to raising awareness about the issues faced by distinct communities.

“Areas where we do not have a reticulation system, now either a village or informal settlement, they are obligated under the Rural Water and Sanitation Policy to have a water committee established.

“Now with the water committee established, it is as per the po­­licy that each committee needs to have at least two or three women as part of the water committee to advocate on equality as well.

“Then we are able to request for funding and for any water utility or NGO that is implementing water projects to assist them, the main goal is to have a water committee, then their issues or plans for development of water projects can then proceed.”

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