Women for Water Conference, March 4-6, 2005, Soesterberg, Netherlands


On the eve of International Women´s Day 2005, a unique working conference took place in the Netherlands . A large variety of women´s organisations from the South, the North, the East and the West had united their forces and during two days worked intensively with experts from the water sector and developmental organisations, from financial institutions and (local) authorities in order to formulate solutions to concrete problems in the field of drinking water and sanitation and water management in general. The cases had been prepared by the women´s organisations themselves.

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How to streamline local, national and international processes; should one strive after large-scale infrastructural projects; are technical solutions in local settings feasible; whether, when and how to cooperate in a public-private partnership; the necessity for training and enhancing professional capacity; who is responsible for maintenance and management of water and sanitation provisions: all these aspects were discussed and developed into practical solutions for the cases at hand.

Women that had never before crossed the borders of their native land entered into discussions with technical experts as to the best ways to tackle their specific problem. Consultants and managers gained hands-on experience with gender mainstreaming. The various cultural perspectives and life styles were discussed and the perspective of cultural impact on problem solving enhanced mutual understanding. Partnerships were established among parties of totally different backgrounds.

All this resulted in unexpected and creative solutions at times. In R omania , for instance, the Mayor of Garla Mare will enable the population of his village to build ecosanitary provisions by suspending municipal taxes for a year to those who invest in eco-sanitation. Substituting latrines by eco-toilets will result in a substantial decrease of faecal bacterial pollution of water wells within 2 to 3 years. Furthermore, the purchase of these eco-toilets will give a boost to the local economy. The women who have formulated these ideas, have stimulated sustainable development in the region they live in.

The women from Surinam came with another example . They have entered into a partnership with the Amsterdam water company to install solar pumps, UV filters and water towers in villages in the remote parts of the country inhabited nearly solely by women, children and elderly people, because of the labour migration of their men.

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In the course of this working conference at Soesterberg, plans were developed to establish women-water committees and for the training of women in order for them to undertake maintenance of the machinery and installations.

The Tegemeo Women’s Group from Tanzania has taken on the daunting task to establish an organisation in their remote villages to jointly deal with the problems connected with water in the region they live in. They requested the help of the Women for Water Partnership in this initial phase.


WOPD, a rural women’s organisation from the Philippines and a partner of the four rural women’s organisations of the Netherlands (4VO) told the conference about their lack of drinking water and how de local community of Guindulman lacks the capacity to deal with this problem. During this workshop a plan was developed for training local women in mainta ining the water taps, install a storage system with the help of Aqua for All and develop concrete income generating activities. WODP will be actively involved in the implementation of the plan.

The Minister for Development Cooperation, Ms. Agnes van Ardenne, who has been instrumental in the onset of the Women for Water initiative, personally came to the Contact of Continents conference centre in Soesterberg to receive the concrete results of the working groups. Some main points are:

  • Millennium Development Goal 7, concerning water and sanitation, can be accomplished if the poorest and most isolated communities in particular can be reached.
  • These communities can be efficiently reached through existing networks of women’s organisations that are involved in cooperative partnerships aimed at finding and implementing integrated solutions at the lowest appropriate level.
  • However, in order to obtain this goal, seed-money, long-term support and capacity-building of women’s organisations is indispensable.
  • Only in a later stage can private enterprises be involved in finding solutions, with the exception of companies like the Dutch Water utilities that reserve a small percentage of their turnover for technical assistance on behalf of people suffering extreme poverty.
  • Women’s participation in decision-making may lead to different priorities for local expenditure, so that – like in the outskirts of Dar-es-Salam – water wells will be drilled, prior to the construction of motorways.
  • It will prove impossible to accomplish the MDG 7 goal through conventional technologies, but it may be feasible through innovative technologies such as urine-diverting toilets and reed-bed waste water filters.

In her closing speech, Ms. Van Ardenne appealed to amongst others Aqua for All (co-organiser of this working conference) to support these and other projects financially. She asked the women´s organisations to expand their pioneering activities and the partnerships as well as to support her other priorities of policy among which the reproductive rights of women. She invited them to participate in the UNICEF programme for sanitation and hygiene in schools, which is financially supported by the Dutch government.

The originators of the Women for Water partnership: the Dutch Women´s Organisation, Women in Europe for a Common Future and Business & Professional Women, may look back upon a very successful and inspiring conference and will, together with their partners, make a serious effort to implement its results. The Women’s representative in the governmental delegation, Ms. Catharien Terwisscha van Scheltinga, will present the conference´s recommendations to the UN Commission for Sustainable Development in New York.

The conference was organised by the founders of the Women for Water Partnership (www.womenforwater.org), and was financed by the Netherlands Council of Women (NVR, Nederlandse Vrouwen Raad) together with WECF, Women in Europe for a Common Future, through subsidized programmes from the National Commission for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development (NCDO) and the Min istry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands