Right to Water is Our Human Right
Group: Feminist Collective for Local Development (Colectiva Feminista para el Desarrollo Local).
Departments: Cuscatlán and Cabañas.
From the voice of: Laura Herrera, coordinator.
El Salvador is one of the Central American countries with the most water stress, which is exacerbated by poor management and contamination of this important resource. Water is further threatened by privatization, because there is no legal framework nor any laws that protect our access to water as a human right.
In response to this reality lived by many Salvadoran communities, in the Feminist Collective for Local Development we decided to focus on protection of water as one of our areas of work. We combine awareness-raising, advocacy with local authorities, and participation of women in decision-making spheres. In 2017 we began an arduous effort to guarantee sustainable and equitable access to water, avoiding privatization of this resource and above all, recognition of access to water as a human right.
Search for change at the constitutional level
We want to have an impact on the State in approving the General Law on Water, so that access to water as a human right is elevated at the constitutional level in Article 69 of the Constitution, which would also include access to food as a human right. In Suchitoto specifically, we want a municipal ordinance that recognizes and legitimizes the right to access to water in terms of quality, quantity and access, which is to say – that water is within reach for all people and does not come at an elevated cost.
Feminism and social justice as foundations of our work
Over the past three years we have worked on an environmental initiative from a foundation of feminism and environmental justice in our quest to improve conditions in the municipality of Suchitoto, specifically on issues related to water and fire prevention. The idea is to have an impact on the population and also the municipality so that they can develop and establish water protection mechanisms.
Environmental problems and water scarcity in communities, as well as in urban areas, fall on women. It requires more work and risk of exposure to different types of violence due to the simple fact that accessing water is a domestic task. That is why we want to transform life conditions for women and we believe that we have achieved this goal over these five years.
We are currently creating different spaces for reflection, information and training for women and mixed groups on community water systems, emphasizing the participation that women have in making decisions within these spaces. We also focus on women’s relationship to water to break down the idea that only women have contact with water because gathering water is considered a domestic duty. From this perspective, we are incentivizing shared responsibility in the home for domestic work and breaking down the gender gap.
As part of the ecofeminist alliance we want to diversify spaces for environmental advocacy. Many of us have had the opportunity to be in national spaces in favor of the environment, but these are mixed spaces and we have faced difficulties in coordinating and sharing ideas with some male counterparts. What we want is to put a feminist lens on environmental problems in the country, and how what is happening globally affects us at the national and local level.
Social and economic challenges
Citizens are a bit reclusive and apathetic around this issue, especially because in some communities they don’t feel a drastic lack of water and in urban areas water service is always available. It is a challenge for us to make the population feel the problem as their own, and think of actions for harvesting water.
Another challenge is the struggle with transnational companies that are installing operations in this municipality. There is now a large pork company with high production levels that is affecting nearby communities through air pollution, land contamination and scarcity of clean water. They drilled a deep well for their use, while water deposits and flow in neighboring communities continue to diminish.
Achievements and next steps
One important step has been the launch of the first public consultation on the right to water in 2017. We successfully applied an established legal mechanism for citizen participation that secured the support of the municipality and many people in the municipality and in communities. Through this vote around 3,500 people were mobilized and raised their voices. Unfortunately, this year we did not achieve a precedent for further action from the consultation, for legal reasons there is a minimum and maximum number of people that must participate and we were short about 300 people. Everything that we did and the change we have seen in people when they speak about water, about harvests and the importance of caring for and protecting the forests motivates us to continue with this work and hope for a second consultation in October of this year.