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“Women should be thought of as strategic users of water. They manage the use of water for preparing food, for drinking, bathing and washing, for irrigating home gardens and watering livestock. Women know the location, reliability and quality of local water resources. They collect water, store it and control its use and sanitation. They recycle water, using grey water for washing and irrigation. Their participation in all development programmes should be given priority. Policies and programmatic interventions such as Water Allocation Reform need to factor this in to achieve the desired end results” (Water for Growth and Development Framework, 2009).”

The Strydkraal and Apel villages in the Fetakgomo Local Municipality, which is part of the Sekhukhune District Municipality in Limpopo Province, was the subject of a study undertaken by The Mvula Trust in order to explore multiple water use strategies of rural women in two different rural villages.

Funded by the Water Research Commission, the study also sought to test the adequacy of current policies and practices against the reality and aspirations of women and their families in the two rural villages, as well as examine whether both the water services and resources needed by women in rural villages are made available, or could be made available to them.

The two villages are very poor, have high unemployment rates, and have a high rate of male, migrant labour due to poor employment prospects in those villages. The local municipality has no water function, whilst the district is the water services authority. Lepelle Northern Water Board is the water services provider. The two villages are faced with major water challenges including operations and maintenance related water cut-offs, low water supply, induced water sharing, as well as capacity and institutional challenges in operations and maintenance. Moreover, the two villages are naturally water scarce areas as a result of limited rainfall. All of this negatively affects the women of Strydkraal and Apel in their livelihood activities, which are centered around agriculture and consequently heavily dependent on water availability.

The research study found that the rural reality in Strydkraal and Apel, being that women are in the forefront of creating sustainable livelihoods and are using water as a crucial and scarce resource for those livelihood strategies, was not reflected sufficiently in water policy and legislation.

Recommendations:

The research study proposed, among others, that:

  • Sector legislation should provide for the needs of emerging entrepreneurs in the rural areas, as it is currently bias towards domestic use.
  • The implementation of water resources institutions as stated in the National Water Act should assist in giving rural women a voice regarding their water needs for productive purposes.
  • Water institutions should be accessible to rural communities.
  • District and local municipalities should adequately incorporate women and their local economic development (LED) planning.
  • Improved communication is needed between the water services authority and water service provider for the promotion of information sharing on operations and maintenance.
  • The ward committee system should be capacitated to deal with water services and water resource management issues.
  • The water services authority needs to introduce water conservation and water demand management in order to ensure that supply-side water savings occur as a means of meeting demand.

The linkage between water as an economic means for rural women and local economic planningshowed that the role of emergent productive water users such as the women of Strydkraal and Apel are not appreciated or adequately supported. This comes despite the fact that rural women are a major contributor to the rural economy in terms of food security, income generation, livelihood strategies and employment opportunities.