Women, water and workers in southern Africa: survey of attitudes of women trade unionists in the public sector in southern Africa, 30 July 2008
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The Southern African Public Service International Conference, Women, Water and Workers, provided the opportunity to weigh up the attitudes of women in the public sector in Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rodrigues/Mauritius, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, facing the challenge of delivery to those without access to water services and improving services where these exist.
Africa is the continent which experiences the greatest proportional incidence of death from water related diseases. More than one and a half million children die from water related diseases each year, most of them within Africa. Diarrhoeal disease, the second leading cause of child death worldwide, is caused by environmental factors - dirty water and lack of sanitation. But despite its dangers, diarrhoea remains a largely overlooked crisis, falling low on the health priority lists of many leaders both within Africa and the global health community. To what extent can trade union action provide a remedy?
According to international bodies maintaining the statistics, Africa is also the continent which is making slowest progress towards meeting the MDG in water and sanitation. According to the WHO and UNICEF report Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation Special Focus on Sanitation (2008) accelerated progress is needed especially in sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than a third of those using unimproved drinking water sources.
In sanitation sub-Saharan Africa has recorded the least progress, with use of improved sanitation increasing from 26 per cent in 1990 to 31 per cent in 2006. More than half a billion people living in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to improved sanitation.
Although these are immense challenges, there are also indications of change. There has been progress in safe water which has seen coverage increase from 49 per cent in 1990 to 58 per cent in 2006, involving an additional 207 million Africans. This progress, however, is not sufficient to put sub-Saharan Africa's MDG on target. On the basis of the existing rate of progress, the HSRC has made a preliminary estimate that (if current demographic trends remain constant) it will take another 45 years or to 2035 for the continent as a whole to achieve the MDG.
For all these reasons the conference gave an excellent opportunity to African women public sector trade unionists focus on the key issues and to highlight ways in which trade union action can contribute to meeting the challenge of free basic services for all. A questionnaire (attached below) was completed by all 21 participants from 11 countries and formed part of the assessment of conclusions of the HSRC's presentation on progress in water services in Africa, the involvement of children in collecting water, and union participation in improving planning and delivery.
The results are presented in a simple format: under sets of strategic questions from policy to union action to achieve change.