Linking with Those at Standing Rock

I stand in solidarity with the water protectors.

Native Americans from nearly 300 tribes united to protect the water by protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. This pipeline would transport 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day across sacred burial grounds and Lake Oahe on the Missouri River, the main source of drinking water for Standing Rock.

According to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, Standing Rock Reservation is a sovereign native nation, meaning that Energy Transfer Partners has no right to construct this pipeline on their land without their permission. The US Government, per their own treaty, has no right to let them.

I stand with the water protectors because I oppose a $3.7 billion project that supports a corporation at the expense of human beings. I stand with them as a white American who is interwoven in a system that exploits Natives for my gain – and I want that exploitation to stop. I stand with them because I am crying out for my government to honor the treaties and begin to right its wrongs for our collective dignity.

I stand in solidarity with the water protectors as a woman.

I don’t know most of the women water protectors. They are just images on Facebook, people I’ll never meet. Yet my Native friend and water protector, Sara, claims I know them all indirectly. “We’re all linked,” she assured me, “through the tragedy and triumph of womanhood.”

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Yes, and I still have white privilege. No fortune 500 company is putting a pipeline through my water source and I have clean water while the predominantly African-American community of Flint, Michigan does not. That tragedy and triumph of womanhood also impacts us differently. Domestic violence makes home the most dangerous place for Native, African-American, Latina and white women, but Native women are more likely to be hospitalized for that violence. On some reservations, women are killed by intimate partners 10 times the national average. One in three Native women are raped.

It struck me that 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Native (read: white) men. As non-natives, these men cannot be prosecuted by tribal courts. Rape of white women does go to trial, though as we learned through Brock Turner the courts tend to favor the white male perpetrators.

Our link as women may be contentious, cumbersome and imperfect, but Sara is right: we are linked.

I look up to the women at Standing Rock. One woman, Zintkala Mahpiya Wi Blackowl, gave birth at one of the water protector camps. She gave birth alone, delivering her baby by herself, as an act of resistance to the patriarchy and the pipeline. “I’ll birth where I choose,” she said. “It’s not for any man to tell me where I can have my baby.”  She named her baby Mni Wiconi, which means water is life.
Her decision to give birth without assistance near a battleground made the hair stand up on my arms. Native Women have a history of forced sterilization. They have lost their children to boarding schools and non-Native foster families. Like all women, they have had their bodies assaulted and exploited, their rights denied and their humanity questioned.

joe-brusky-1aZintkala Mahpiya Wi Blackowl took back her story, her voice, her body. This is the reclamation of power. This is resistance. This is leadership. This is turning tragedy into triumph.

I stand with the courageous, beautifully defiant and strong women of Standing Rock. I also stand united with the men. Our connection to each other as human beings is imperfect and wrought with relative power and privilege, but it endures. We will regain our collective humanity when we recognize, as Gloria Steinem says, that we are linked and not ranked.

Let us link with those at Standing Rock.

For more information on supporting the water protectors, see Romper’s list here.  

Photo Credit: Joe Brusky (CC). 

The Role of Water in the Struggle for Rights

While A Spring of Hope’s mission is to bring water to impoverished rural South African schools in order to provide sustainable economic development to all in the community, our work has a significant and unique impact for girls and women.

One very critical area that is affected by lack of water is school attendance. Girls’ absentee rates are significantly higher than boys due to their role as water collectors. They often have to trudge several kilometers with jerry cans to unreliable government pumps or unsafe, polluted sources in order to acquire water for cooking and washing, losing days of school and work. If the water is of questionable quality and makes them ill, more work or school time is lost, with medical costs adding economic burdens they can ill-afford.

Photo Credit: A Spring of Hope
Photo Credit: A Spring of Hope

According to the UN Women Commission, women and girls represent 75 percent of household water collectors. In some countries, the proportion is as high as 90 percent.

A fresh, clean water source at schools can be used for food preparation, sanitation and growing prolific gardens that provide healthy and nutritious meals for the students. Additionally, the burden of collecting water is lessened and girls are more likely to maintain their studies.

Another area which A Spring of Hope is striving to improve, which also adversely affects girls, is sanitation. In South Africa, 913 schools have no sanitation facilities and 11,450 are still using pit latrine toilets (www.equaleducation.org.za). While poor sanitation and pit latrines spread disease and are unhealthy for all, menstruation offers additional challenges to girls.

Globally, about one in ten female students do not attend school during menstruation or drop out because they do not have access to sanitation facilities they feel are private, clean, and safe.

In addition, inadequate sanitation facilities pose a safety risk for women and girls, who often suffer harassment or sexual assault when toilets have no locks or doors.

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Photo Credit: A Spring of Hope

A Spring of Hope is attempting to provide solutions for these sanitation issues by providing waterless toilets to our partner schools. Waterless toilets are a revolutionary waste containment system which is environmentally friendly, requires no water, and helps eradicate the spread of disease.

Universal access to water and sanitation is imperative to achieving gender equality and promoting women’s empowerment. It is also about the increased access to rights–the right to own property, own land, education, and free choices. A Spring of Hope is contributing to this ongoing struggle for rights by helping schools become self-sufficient, strong community centers. It’s not “aid” or giving material goods away, it is partnerships that are behind rights-based development.

Celebrate Women and Water this March

At 19 years old, my French professor asked me if I believed in female solidarity, strengthening the core of women’s empowerment by supporting other females. At the time, the concept didn’t mean much to me. As I grew more aware of the issues women face around the world and of the exemplary women that spark positive change, it has developed into one of my fundamental values.

Photo Credit: Jordan Teague/WASH Advocates
Photo Credit: Jordan Teague/WASH Advocates

March is a time to not only celebrate the commencement of spring, but it is also the season to raise our voices for both women and water. As global citizens around the world stood together on March 8th for International Women’s Day, we must also stand behind our nearly 750 million other counterparts who face each day without access to safe drinking water. Let International Women’s Day serve as a reminder to us of the importance of safe drinking water and sanitation. Let it remind us of the girls who are struggling to stay in school because they don’t have a bathroom in which to manage their menstruation in a safe and hygienic way. Let it help us remember the women who spend 25% of their day collecting water for their families.

World Water Day is celebrated each year on March 22nd to inspire positive change for the global citizens who suffer from water-related problems. This year, I’d like to draw attention to a notable woman who has empowered hundreds of women through water: Gemma Bulos. As the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI), Gemma works to create water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) initiatives that are led by local women in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya through providing training and coaching. Through GWWI, women have learned how to build biosand filters, latrines, and rainwater harvesting tanks. Over 36,000 people have access to clean water and sanitation because of the efforts of the women of GWWI. Rose, a graduate and Fellow of the GWWI training program, said that it not only changed her life, but everyone’s around her by providing:

  • Increased productivity,
  • Financial independence, and
  • A significant reduction in violence against women.

Empowering women through water has a ripple effect with exponential benefits. One woman has the power to change her community through her leadership in WASH efforts, such as building a water storage tank. One community has the power to change a nation through economic gains as a result of WASH projects. And one nation has the power to inspire the entire global community. So in this month of International Women’s Day and World Water Day, let’s be thankful for the opportunities that water can give to women, and let’s recognize the women who change their communities through water.

WASH Advocates is proud to support the empowerment of women through water. You, too, can help start the chain reaction.

Holly Kandel is a Research Assistant at WASH Advocates, and a senior at SUNY Geneseo in New York.

World Water Day: Clean Water is Only the Beginning

Written by Suzy Vickers, Public Relations Manager, WaterAid

​This morning 13-year-old Ze got up and went to school. This might not sound very remarkable, 13-year-olds girls go to school all the time, don’t they? For Ze, this was a truly momentous day.

I met Ze a year ago in her remote village of Antohobe in Madagascar. Perched a mile up in the highlands, our Landover lurched from side to side as we climbed the steep dirt tracks to her home. I could see why the village name means ‘a place with a view’.

Ze struggling to lift 40 pounds of water on her head and walk back home; WaterAid/ Abbie Trayler-Smith
Ze struggling to lift 40 pounds of water on her head and walk back home; WaterAid/ Abbie Trayler-Smith

When I arrived I was immediately struck by two young girls – Solo and Ze. Bright, chatty and confident, these best friends were eager to show me where they lived. They had few belongings, just one toy between them, a cherished doll they delighted in playing with. Their home was a simple two story building, with livestock kept on the first floor.

Conversation took a more somber tone when they explained their daily chores to me. These young teenage girls had to worry about more than cleaning their bedrooms – they had to collect water, up to five times a day. They had to walk down a treacherous trail surrounded by spiky cactuses, to a small muddy pond full of insects and algae.

Just six foot in diameter, this ‘spring’ served the 400-strong population of the village for all their water needs – washing, drinking, cooking, bathing and cleaning. I could see movement under the surface. One word – ‘tsingala’ – is used to describe the plethora of insects living beneath.

I wince as Ze lifts up the huge 40-pound jerry can full of water.

“We fall down quite often, I sprained my ankle two months ago. It really hurt, I couldn’t walk. I was crying and I had to crawl back up the path to the village, when my parents saw me they helped me into our house. Sometimes I still get pain there. After the first time I couldn’t walk for one month”. – Ze

When I met Ze last year she had been forced to drop out of school – her five daily hikes to collect water meant she simply did not have time to go any more. Water collection is seen as a domestic task, so it commonly falls to the girls in the family. I was shocked to see such an energetic bright young girl stopped in her tracks and committed to such back-breaking chores. Her future cut short all because she didn’t have access to clean water.

Ze back in her classroom at school; WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala
Ze back in her classroom at school; WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

Over 748 million people in the world still don’t have access to clean water – for many, many girls their lives are just how Ze’s was. They too spend hours every day collecting heavy jerry cans of dirty water. This water can be very dangerous to drink, it frequently makes people sick, meaning they are forced to take time off school, or worse. In Ze’s village, sickness and diarrhea were rife. Globally, it is estimated that over 700 girls die every day from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation.

Solo and Ze now have clean water in their village. They no longer spend hours every day carrying heavy jerry cans of water, stumbling down dangerous paths.

“There is lots of fresh, clean water coming from the pump. It’s so easy to get water here. Thank you for making it happen.” – Ze

WaterAid worked with local partner organization Association Miarintsoa (AMI) to install clean water in the village. A deep electrical well pump was installed, hitting water after seven long days of drilling. Ze’s father has been trained as a local caretaker and is in charge of maintaining the water pump.

This village is moving towards Community-led Total Sanitation – this means toilets are being built, showers are being constructed and people are being educated about hygiene. Facilities are also being extended to include Ze’s school.

Last month Ze was able to return to school. A truly triumphant day for her. And real proof of the power of clean water. Her future is now alive again. Clean water isn’t the end of Ze’s story though, it’s only the beginning.

Sign our petition today so that more young girls like Ze can realize the dream of clean water and return to school.

Ze’s teacher Chantel is happy to have Ze back at school; WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala
Ze’s teacher Chantel is happy to have Ze back at school; WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

Visit www.wateraid.org to learn more about how clean water impacts women’s and girls’ lives.

Cover image: Solo and Ze celebrate clean water arriving in their village; WaterAid / Ernest Randriarimalala