Cover Image
close this bookEmpowering Women and Children (WWSF, 2002)
close this folderWomen's Section
close this folderWorld Rural Women's Day 15 October
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentPoster/Open Letter
View the documentImpact Report 2001

Poster/Open Letter

Poster 2002


The logo of the poster is Trademark Registered ä and may be reproduced for information purposes without removing logos and names of the organiser and sponsors. The use for commercial purposes needs prior permission in writing from the campaign organizer. Reproduction of the Open Letter is permitted provided the source is mentioned.
Copyright © WWSF 2002

Open Letter to Rural Women of the World - 2002
"Claim your right to safe water"

Dear Sisters,

The theme of this year's letter is your right to safe water. When one speaks of basic human rights, the right to safe water is the most basic of all. Access to safe drinking water is, above all, a political issue which must be guaranteed by your Governments and International Institutions. All of us, however, have an obligation to preserve, protect and respect water which is life, a gift of nature to all humanity. It is a unique component of our environment and is indeed one of our most precious resources. All our social and economic activities rely heavily on the supply and quality of water which requires careful conservation and sustainable management by men and women.


- 1,5 billion people lack adequate and safe drinking water of good quality

- 2,5 billion people have no sanitary conditions

- 5 million people, predominantly women and children, die every year from diseases related to water quality

Health and water

As the water carriers in most parts of the world, and due to increasing environmental and population pressures, many of you are walking further and further - 10, 20, 40 km - to fetch water for household use. As the food providers and mothers responsible for family hygiene and for your fields and gardens, you are the first to realize the importance and clear link between health and water. You cannot attain health without safe water and sanitation and your effective involvement in water management is therefore crucial. Eighty percent of common diseases in developing countries are caused either by dirty water or lack of sanitation. Water-borne diseases kill about 25,000 people per day, most of them children. Since we all share the same need for water, managing water resources should be the responsibility of men and women. You need to be involved both at the community and at the policy making level and evolve from mere water carriers into planners and managers of supply systems. There is also a strong link between girl-education and developing water schemes. Easier access to drinking water will release crucial time needed for their education as they are often withdrawn from school to help with carrying water among other tasks.

Environment and water

Today, water in many areas of the world is rare and has become a cause of conflict. By 2025, 96 countries will face considerable water shortage and 45 will face very serious water problems. It is therefore vital to eliminate the wasting and pollution of water while at the same time slowing population growth, or we shall be faced with tough competition for water resources. Rural areas often suffer desertification when water is piped away towards cities without the consent of rural communities. Water is polluted as a result of poor waste management (sewage dumped directly into rivers, lakes and seas) and leaching of agricultural and industrial chemicals. Global warming is altering the balance of water resources worldwide, causing some areas to be flooded while others are becoming dryer, in addition to causing sea levels to rise.

Poverty, food security, privatisation and water

Clean drinking water is an essential part of healthy nutrition and food security. Lack of water is already a major obstacle to local food production, and access to water by the poorest populations is also threatened by privatisation of supply systems. Privatisation will not solve the problem of scarcity but is enabling large corporations to charge monopoly profits. It is absolutely unacceptable that one of the most basic resources of existence becomes a major source of profit, often at the expense of the poorest of the poor. You must protect it as a public good. Water-value is the most precious social capital of our present time. It is a resource that belongs to all and must be managed as such. A high pricing of water can bar especially the poorest from access to improved water supply for basic hygiene, consumption and food production.

Agriculture and water

Agriculture is often your prime subsistence and economic activity in developing countries and accounts by far for the largest water use. Especially in your rural areas, agriculture determines to a large extent how water is managed at community and household level and plays an important role in the division of water related tasks, means and responsibilities. Water and its declining supply therefore calls on men and women to manage it sustainably. It is widely recognised that improving supply systems and keeping water clean is largely your responsibility. However, you are almost totally absent from the field of water management in spite of the fact that you are the main users.

So what can you do?

Starting from the premise that you have mostly been excluded from orientation and decisions, you now must ensure that no important decisions regarding water supply and management are taken without your participation

- train yourselves in operating and maintaining village-level water systems as you have the strongest incentive to keep the systems operating properly, and learn about systems of maintaining water balance so that your water wells and household gardens do not dry up; analyse the current situation in relation to gender and water in your communities; investigate the potential of wells powered by solar energy as it is the energy of the future.

- plan specific actions to preserve safe water while at the same time ensuring the distribution of sufficient quantities, and create powerful coalitions to avoid privatisation of your water sources.

- learn from indigenous societies about their approach to defend water quality, preserve springs, and other methodologies they have mastered, and organise meetings, plays, press conferences, radio programs and events to sensitise your community.

- denounce unsuitable farming techniques that use pesticides and other chemicals which pollute your water.

Demand that Governments and Transnational Corporations

- involve you in the definition of policies at every phase of water supply and sanitation projects

- give priority to safe drinking water and sanitation in rural areas in all national development plans, including primary health care plans.

- legislate the rights and duties related to water and sanitation and the establishment of consultation and arbitration bodies at both the national and regional levels with the responsibility of managing conflicts around water management.

- grant community rights to water in order to protect these rights globally and initiate an international legally binding framework for such protection.

- train you to increase your knowledge and mastery of water management technologies.

Dear Sisters, we honour you and wish you success in your deliberations and celebrations on World Rural Women's Day 2002. Continue to enrich humanity with your creativity, power and strength and claim your right to safe water.

Elly Pradervand, Campaign Director - World Rural Women's Day - 15 October
Executive Director - Women's World Summit Foundation WWSF, HQ in Geneva, Switzerland

For further information and posters, contact WWSF,
PO Box 2001, 1211 Geneva 1, Switzerland
Tel.: (+41 22) 738 66 19. Fax: (+41 22) 738 82 48. E-mail:

Poster 2001


The logo of the poster is Trademark Registered ä and may be reproduced for information purposes without removing logos and names of the organiser and sponsors. The use for commercial purposes needs prior permission in writing from the campaign organizer. Reproduction of the Open Letter is permitted provided the source is mentioned.
Copyright © WWSF 2002

Open Letter to Rural Women of the World
"Protect Your Traditional Knowledge" 2001

Dear Sisters,

Although, you may not realize it, you are rich in knowledge: knowledge about the many uses of native plants and farming methods, knowledge about your environment that is indispensable for the pursuit of life in your communities, knowledge you depend upon for your livelihood and well being that has been transmitted from generation to generation by your ancestors in your native languages, knowledge you have adapted, enriched and modified constantly over centuries as you face new situations and challenges. It is usually transmitted orally and governed by unwritten customary laws. As the primary conservers and transmitters of your indigenous knowledge, you are the main actors who can ensure its preservation for future generations. Often this also means preserving your native languages, which embody this knowledge, as the loss of language can result in the loss of knowledge together with the only words to describe plants, animals, techniques and concepts.

Your traditional knowledge, practices and innovations are receiving growing attention worldwide as modern society, institutions and governments become increasingly aware not only of how vital this knowledge is for our common survival, but how valuable it is economically. It is rapidly being lost, however, as ecosystems are degraded, as people move to cities, as traditional communities and cultures disintegrate or are absorbed into modern society, and as children are educated only in modern ways and beliefs and in the dominant language. Your knowledge is priceless. However systems called "Intellectual Property Rights" (IPR) designed to prevent people from stealing someone else's invention and selling it for a profit, are now being applied to traditional knowledge and life forms. Your governments are currently taking part in international discussions on how to apply IPRs to your traditional knowledge either to protect it but also to commercialise it. As rightful owners, it is crucial that you be included in any decisions being taken with regard to the formulation of policies aimed at safeguarding your knowledge in the field of health, agriculture, pest and disease resistance, environmental protection, handicrafts, languages and culture.

- In the field of medicine, a great part of the 60 billion dollar world market for herbal medicines is based on your traditional knowledge. Transnational corporations send specialists into your communities to obtain your know-how and herbal remedies, with which these companies make millions of dollars of profits. Most often, very little, if any, of these profits return to you.

- In the field of agriculture, your traditional knowledge plays a key role in the preservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Possibly two thirds of the world's people could not survive without the food provided by the indigenous knowledge of plants, animals, insects, and farming systems. Due to the fact that their agriculture is largely based on monocrops of single varieties grown over large acreages, the developed world is now relatively poor in plant genetic resources, while developing countries are still rich in genetic diversity, therefore the developed world are very interested in exploring your knowledge on biodiversity in order to patent new varieties of crop plants.

- In the field of culture, you are the main holders and transmitters of your cultural traditions, i.e. of songs, legends, celebrations, handicrafts, customs, languages and food products which are intricately linked with the perpetuation of your indigenous knowledge. You are the hidden treasure and your knowledge is of great value for the well being of life on the planet, which is why it must be recognised and duly rewarded.

Your challenge: how to preserve your knowledge from disappearing due to modernization, and how to protect it from appropriation by external commercial interests for their own financial benefit. Many NGOs have called for a moratorium on the patenting of life forms. The long-term economic development of your communities may well depend on your ability to harness your traditional knowledge for your own economic benefit. It is your most precious capital, and constitutes an important potential source of poverty alleviation. One way is to document your past knowledge and innovations involving the younger generation. Your Government has an obligation to help you maintain your knowledge and include you in all relevant discussions.

We stress that traditional practices resulting in the domination of women, causing physical, emotional or material harm, such as female circumcision, forced marriages, and discrimination against women in inheritance and land rights, among others, are NOT included in the definition of traditional knowledge. Those practices not only harm women, but also harm their ability to harness and transmit knowledge, and must be eliminated. In general, however, and especially in the field of agriculture, animal behaviour, herbal remedies, health therapies and techniques, food conservation, building materials, waste disposal, etc. not to mention your customs and celebrations so rich in wisdom, you hold a wealth of knowledge of living values humanity urgently needs. Preserve it! Do not let it be taken from you without your consent! Protecting your knowledge and culture is also protecting your identity and self-worth.

Dear Sisters, we honour you and hope this letter will empower you in becoming more aware of your precious knowledge, which is your power. We urge you to organize yourselves into coalitions and networks, exchange experiences and above all, claim your economic, social and cultural rights. We wish you a most fruitful World Rural Women's Day.

In celebration with you,
Elly Pradervand, Global Campaign Director - World Rural Women's Day - 15 October
Executive Director - Women's World Summit Foundation (WWSF) HQ in Geneva, Switzerland