Ca. 1865. «Washerwomen of La Varenne, France», Martín Rico y Ortgea © Museo del Prado (Madrid, Spain)


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Water is, together with energy and oxygen, an essential natural resource for the life of any species. Ours has developed a complex management of water, incorporating new uses for hygiene, irrigation, the production of clean energy and leisure activities, by an intense manipulation of hydric cycles which has improved our quality of life but is also having serious environmental consequences.

Daily access to water is a vital need and a human right, which has been embodied in different legal codes to guarantee sufficiency, healthiness, accessibility and availability for everyone. The UN estimates that a minimum of 40-50 litres per person per day is required. In 2015, 9% of the world’s population still lacked access to drinking water, and 39% have no tap for personal washing nor appropriate drainage and sewage treatment. The guaranteeing of availability of water, its sustainable management and sanitation for everyone is the sixth Sustainable Development Goals established by the UN in 2015.

A great part of the management of water has been at the hands of women, who know where to find it, how to extract it, how to carry it and where to keep it for different everyday uses. Their knowledge and prominence were first recognised in the Dublin Declaration on Water and Sustainable Development in 1992, and later in the World Conference on Women in Beijing 1995.

In privileged societies, companies and institutions have taken on the management of these services through vast infrastructures whose cost is unaffordable for poorer populations, which reflects gender inequality in such societies but also class and social inequality between men and women in the more and less privileged populations.