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KYOTO — Greater integration of the female perspective is critical for better management of water services, according to participants in a session Monday of the ongoing World Water Forum here.

The “Gender in Court” session was organized by the Gender and Water Alliance, a network of organizations across the world working to achieve equity and equality among all parties in the field of sustainable water resources development and management.

Experts argue that the gender issue holds great significance when discussing water issues, as women are often the most vulnerable, especially in rural areas where they sometimes have to walk long distances to access water for daily household needs.

The forum session took the form of a mock trial, with a panel of judges and prosecutors sitting in the front and along one side of a room to generate active debate. Participants heard seven reports of water management and sanitation work from the gender perspective from countries including Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mali and Pakistan.

Although the countries taken up in the session were varied, they all had something in common: Incorporating gender perspectives increased effectiveness and efficiency in the water sector, GWA Chairwoman Maliha Hussein said in wrapping up the day’s debate.

“We need to take a participatory approach” to achieve better management of water and sanitation services, Hussein added.

The reports and ensuing discussions, however, also revealed difficulties in carrying out such action, from the grassroots to the government level.

For instance, difficulties were cited in policy implementation in South Africa, even though that country has been praised by experts as having some of the world’s most advanced water policies in terms of incorporating gender and race perspectives.

“(The biggest obstacle to policy implementation is) the sufficient training of those who actually work at the community level,” said Barbara Schreiner, an official at the South African government’s department of water affairs and forestry.

Although the importance of looking at gender when discussing and implementing water management policy was agreed to at the World Summit on Sustainable Development last year in Johannesburg, only a handful of countries have incorporated the gender perspective in national water policies.

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