Considering Gender Roles and Intercultural Immersion for Water Infrastructure Projects in Indigenous Communities

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Maria Teresa Gutierrez, of the International Labor Organization, gives an inside look at the South-South Cooperation Case Study involving water management and sanitation in indigenous and dispersed rural communities of Latin America.

The South-South Cooperation is about developing countries sharing expertise and working together to find solutions to common social, economic and environmental challenges. One particular South-South Cooperation Case Study in Latin America involves water management and sanitation in indigenous and dispersed rural communities of Paraguay, Panama, and Nicaragua. It has a unique approach that considers gender roles and inter-cultural immersion.

The International Labor Organization (ILO), a specialized agency of the United Nations that promotes universal peace through social justice projects, coordinated with the Millennium Development Goals-Fund (MDG-F) to develop the South-South Cooperation Case Study in Latin America. The MDG-F finances innovative and results oriented joint programs at the country level that are led by resident coordinators and UN partners, including the ILO and national counterparts.

Maria Teresa Gutierrez, from the ILO’s Development and Investment Branch, explains that Paraguay was the last of the South-South Cooperation projects, and incorporated and developed the lessons learned from previous work in Panama and Nicaragua between 2011 and 2012.

Before approaching the topic of water management and sanitation in indigenous communities, Gutierrez says we must understand one thing: ‰ÛÏindigenous people have successfully managed water resources in a traditional way all over the world and it is their knowledge and cultural mechanisms for natural resource management, especially for water, that has allowed them to survive and adapt.‰Û

Gutierrez said that indigenous people have been able to adapt to maintain access to water, yet the quality of water for consumption and sanitation demands more attention. The lack of infrastructure in many indigenous communities prevents access to clean water and sanitation. The framework for the MDG-F initiative involves a gender and intercultural approach and the process is incorporated under the 169 convention, a legally binding international instrument that deals with specific rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.

The intercultural and gender approach implemented in Paraguay has found much success, Gutierrez said. The intercultural approach has included ‰ÛÏcommunity contracting,‰Û which allowed local residents to be involved in the implementation of the project and encouraged them to survey the process.

For the gender approach, Gutierrez says it made more sense to train the women of these communities to maintain the infrastructure equipment for water storage and sanitation because the men traveled out of their villages every day for work. If something went wrong with the equipment during the day, the women were the ones nearby and usually tasked with the role of obtaining water.

Along with its practicality, Gutierrez explains that ‰ÛÏtraining the women gave them an opportunity to be involved in the management and administrative issues, and most importantly it gave them a chance to be empowered.‰Û