effects of water privatisation on women
Water experts have predicted that a worldwide water shortage
is set to worsen significantly over the next 25 years
with billions of people affected by an unprecedented global
The experts also forecast that women and children, especially
in Africa are the group that would be hit hardest. During
a recent international workshop on the privatization of
essential services participants sent distressed signals
that women would be the worse affected if water were put
in private hands.
They therefore called on the sponsors on the water privatization
scheme to rethink their position and find alternatives
to the water privatization agenda.
Zo Randrianamaro of the Third World Network Africa Secretariat
who was the lead discussant on the 'Economic Implications
of Water Privatisation-The Gender Angle noted that there
is a great cost to every country that does not provide
potable water to its people.
She explained that the absence of clean water reflects
in poor health; drop in productivity as more workers absent
themselves from work. She said because women form the
bulk of the Ghanaian society they are usually worse affected
in the event of removal of subsidy on water and other
According to Randrianamaro in case of water shortage
and high cost of water, it is women who pay heavily because
of their reproductive status. She said in the villages,
women are compelled to walk several kilometers in search
for water. "And these women usually carry their daughters
along in search for water. The result is dropout in education
of the girl child with the attendant health hazards",
Randrianamaro explained to the participants.
Citing specific cases, Randrianamaro said a study of
the socio-economic environment in Madina, a suburb of
Accra has revealed that collecting water has played a
key role in girls dropping out school in that community,
as in other rural communities in Africa.
"In Madina, the effects of water privatization has
caused people to resort to drinking water from wells,
with its health hazards", adding that water borne
diseases account for 70 percent of disease treated in
hospitals across the country.
She said the health situation continues to deteriorate
because of the full-cost recovery policy currently in
operation. "Here again it is women who are burdened
with taking care of the sick".
In the view of Randrianamaro the argument that competition
in the water sector will bring efficiency does not hold
water because by its nature water provision is monopolistic.
According to her, experiences elsewhere have shown that
the market does not determine the price of water; it is
determined by the interest of transnational corporations.
She explained that in many instances that transnational
corporation were unable to reach the profit levels, governments
of the countries made for the difference by resorting
to tariff adjustment, usually fixed to exchange rate.
"So when the local currency depreciates, there is
an automatic adjustment to meet the profits of the private
companies. Whenever access to social services are lacking,
women step in to provide cover, thereby hurting their
Randrianamaro further explained that in the event of
privatization of water and other services domestic savings
would drop as people pay more for basic services. "There
will be more resources going out of the country as companies
repatriate profits, while investing very little",
"The opportunity cost of investing in budgetary
balance as against investing in services is illogical.
What is the rational of subsidizing multinational companies
as against investing in social services?", she asked.
She was of the view that if privatization of water goes
ahead as planned the state would have abandoned its responsibilities
in terms of social reconstruction. :Ghana will no longer
be a developmental state, it will be a state serving corporate
interests and Ghanaians will be reduced to nothing, unable
to afford basic services."
In a paper : "Water Privatisation in Ghana-Women
under siege", Rudolf Amenga-Etego, Coordinator of
Advocacy and Campaign Programmes of ISODEC said even though
privatization of the water system is still underway, it
has already brought untold hardship for women and children.
Rudolf said under the IMF and World Bank policy, the
Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) is expected
to continue hiking water rates until a market rate is
achieved. This policy, he called 'boil the frog' method
of rate-setting explaining that just as a frog does not
struggle if water temperature is gradually raised to the
boiling point, it is assumed that consumers will not struggle
if rates are increased gradually to market levels.
According to Rudolf the PURC is also expected to protect
foreign investments and stabilize revenue levels by indexing
water rates to the dollar. "The direct result of
these two policy measures has been a drastic and traumatising
increase in water rates since the privatization began."
He buttressed the point that in all these goings-on women
and children are worse affected, since men care little
about water bills and how and where water is obtained.
He said in poor households in some parts of the country
women are compelled to make important trade-offs in order
to provide for water, sometimes reducing income earning
abilities. Rudolf cites the case of Madam Atuko, who lives
in East Mamobi is a clear example. "Asked why she
continues to drink from a polluted well located close
to an open sewer, she said the water from that well is
free, so taking water from there allows her to save ¢2000
she would have spent on buying water."
"Households are often forced to choose between the
lesser of two evils. Children go to school in tattered
uniforms to save money for water and food; others drop
out altogether when basic households become unbearable",
says Rudolf. He explained that in societies in where parents
prefer to send boys to school, the difficulty of accessing
water provides yet another excuse for keeping girls at
home. "It is common to see girls carrying water and
walking long distances at dawn. They end up going to school
late, sleeping through lessons and failing their exams."
He pointed out that the impact of water shortage on urban
housemaids is distressing. This is because a large number
of urban women go to work and leave household care to
their girls. The solution, according to him is to provide
boreholes or a tap in every cluster of houses in rural
and urban areas alike in order to restore freedom to the
poor, especially women and the poor.
"It is time to make the gender dimension of water
and sanitation challenges the focus of politics. We need
to respond to these problems politically", concludes