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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks to Womens Leadership in Water Event in Marseille

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Washington, DC
March 6, 2012


Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I really wish I could join you in person in beautiful Marseille. I would like to recognize the French government for hosting, and thank the Women for Water Partnership, and particularly event co-chairs Kusum Athukorala and Mariet Verhoef, for organizing this important pre-conference to the World Water Forum. I would also like to welcome all the distinguished guests that are gathered with you today, including Kenza Robinson, Secretary of UN-Water; Maria Mutagamba, the Minister of Environment and Water of Uganda; Dinesh Gunawardena, the Minister of Water Supply and Drainage of Sri Lanka; and Alice Bouman, President of the Women for Water Partnership.

I would also like to recognize Mrs. Rehema Bavuma of the Katosi Women Development Trust of Uganda. I understand that the Trust will be awarded the Kyoto Water Prize this week at the World Water Forum. I congratulate you and your colleagues on this notable achievement and on all of your efforts to improve the lives of rural women in Uganda.

We know that complex global challenges such as climate change and a rapidly growing global population are interconnected with our fight to ensure access to clean and reliable sources of water, both now and in the years to come. This means that the decisions we make today on water will continue to impact global food security, community health and water supply, economic wellbeing, and local and regional peace and security. When thinking through solutions, we must use all of the tools at our disposal, including our vast human capacity and in particular, women’s leadership.

Two weeks ago, I led the United States delegation to the 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York. At these meetings, there was wide recognition of the critical role of women, and particularly rural women, in advancing all three pillars of sustainable development – social, economic, and environmental. Women’s role in advancing access to clean water and sanitation is a particularly important part of sustainable development. In much of the developing world, women and girls spend several hours a day collecting, transporting, and managing water for domestic use, as well as promoting sanitation and hygiene in their households and communities. As the primary agricultural producers in much of the developing world, women also rely upon water resources to provide food for their families and communities.

In many ways, women, as half the world’s population and leaders in water resource management hold the key to developing localized and global solutions to ensure clean water access for all. If you want to reduce demand for water, you teach women, who produce 60-80 percent of food in developing countries, how to store and use water more effectively. If you want to implement a hygiene-education program, teach the women and girls about hand-washing, and the message will permeate the community. If you want to reduce waterborne disease, you give women access to credit and other resources to access safe drinking water and sanitation for themselves and their families. We can see how taking action to further unlock the potential of women now will ensure that water resources are managed effectively into the future.

I know that many of you will carry the messages from this meeting into the World Water Forum this week. In the coming months, we will have several additional opportunities to advance this agenda, including the Rio+20 conference in Brazil next June. The work that you are doing is so critical to informing and shaping the global agenda at these meetings, and ensuring that women’s role in water resource management, and sustainable development more broadly, is given the attention that it deserves. And let me just add that partnerships- which many of you have already built and are continuing to build this weekend- are critical for developing effective, long-lasting policies and solutions.

I wish you all a very productive discussion this weekend, and I look forward to hearing the outcomes, and to working with you over the coming months to ensure that women’s issues are placed front and center, where they belong, at the World Water Forum, at Rio+20, and every place else where important decisions are being made.

Thank you so much for what you are doing, for what you will do this week and in the months to come, and the best of luck!

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