It was the end of October, and spring had just started in Argentina. In the Gran Chaco region, though, it felt like the middle of summer as the temperature easily reached 110° F. We were in Orán, a town in the province of Salta in the Gran Chaco. Thirty women got together to exchange experiences and learn new technologies for water harvesting systems. The event as called a “learning route,” which is a training system based on the experience and knowledge of the participants themselves. The route, which includes time for information exchange, analysis and reflection, was organized by Fundapaz (Foundation for Development in Justice and Peace), a local partner of CWS for more than 15 years.
The Gran Chaco is a semi-arid and water stressed region where access to safe water is a historically violated right. For four days, 30 indigenous and “criollo” (non-indigenous farmer) women talked, laughed and shared their experiences on the ways they use and manage water in their communities and within their families. Depending on the season (rainy or dry), women and children spend many hours of the day walking and carrying water for human consumption, animals and crops.
Everywhere you go in the Chaco, people will tell you that water is the main issue that needs a long-term solution, but governments have turned their backs on these families and communities.
Water scarcity is one of the main characteristics of life in the Chaco. Its absence affects all activities for people of all ages. But it does have a different impact on the lives of men and women. This was one of the things that the women spent time analyzing and reflecting on during the learning route. One of the participants said, “every day women take care and worry that families and animals have water, but at the time of public efforts, men are still the protagonists.”
During the event, women learned about their right to water and sanitation, strategies for water-related advocacy, and their favorite part: a hands-on training about how to build a rainwater harvest system! Despite the heat, they actively joined in the process of building a cistern in the ground of a small Anglican church in the Wichi community of Los Blancos. Some of the participants had previous experience in their communities in Santa Fe province, where women learned about and then built 17 cisterns, and happily explained the details of this technique. As they expressed, “rainwater harvest cisterns changed our lives, now we can have some leisure time and are able to plan our days more efficiently.”
In a world where the United Nations reports that, “women and girls are responsible for water collection in 8 out of 10 households with water off premises,” reducing the population with limited access to drinking water services has a strong gender impact. In the coming years, CWS will continue to support and promote women training and participation in decision makings spaces related to water access among others.
Agustina Ramos Mejia is the CWS Regional Representative for the South American Gran Chaco.
CWS supports women’s organizations and participation in programs in the Gran Chaco in a variety of ways. Here are a couple of them:
- In Paraguay, we have a five-year program called “Integral Rural Development in Six Indigenous Communities of the Paraguayan Gran Chaco.” It includes a training component specifically for encouraging women’s participation and leadership within communities. During 2019, 224 indigenous women from four communities participated in workshops through the program.
- In Bolivia, our program that ran from 2017-2019 was called “Rainwater Harvesting and Skill Building for Indigenous Women and Youth Empowerment in the Gran Chaco Region.” This program, which was implemented with generous support from Growing Hope Globally, helped get 18 income-generating initiatives started. These initiatives were led by women in areas near cities.
- Our “Communities in Action” program supports income-generating activities that are led by women, and it also supports groups of women who are fighting gender-based violence. Learn about some of these groups here and here.