FEATURE STORY

In northeastern Brazil, investments in water ease the burden on women

August 28, 2012


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“I used to struggle to do the washing up. Now I can do it more quickly. I have more time for other things,” explains Rita de Cassia, from Jatoba, a community descended from former slaves.

World Bank

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Developments within the water and agricultural sectors have enabled women to dedicate more time to on and off-farm activities, leading to a 30% increase in their families’ income.
  • The amount of time spent on daily household activities has also dropped in Rio Grande do Norte, according to a new World Bank report.
  • The connection between water supply and gender issues will be analyzed in other areas of northeastern Brazil supported by poverty reduction projects.

Women from poor, rural communities in the Northeast have been historically described in songs and movies as strong enough to carry a metal barrel full of water for miles. They are now leaving the heavy weight behind them and better using their time for activities that improve their livelihoods.

For these women, this is the best outcome from investments into water and local agricultural sectors, according to a new World Bank report.

Fetching water for everyday use is still the daily task which takes up the largest amount of women’s time in the Northeast. But things have changed in Rio Grande do Norte, where 2,700 initiatives supported by the Bank have benefited 90,000 families over eight years.

According to the study, carried out in 20 communities, women reduced the time spent on this task and on other household activities. They were then able to dedicate this time to farming activities, increasing agricultural income and food security.

They also had more time to work away from their farms, leading to a 30% rise in their families’ income.

“I used to struggle to do the washing up. Now I can do it more quickly. I have more time for other things,” explains Rita de Cassia, from Jatoba, a community descended from former slaves.

 “We harvest, we sell. Every Saturday I take the produce to the local market, where I can make BRL 70, 90 or even 100,” comments Geralda da Silva, from 8 de Março Settlement.

“Water brought immediate benefits to all the families surveyed. It allowed them to have more time to do other activities, rest or simply play with their families,” says Fatima Amazonas, who coordinated the case study and managed the World Bank’s Rio Grande do Norte Rural Poverty Reduction Project.


" Mothers whose sons are unmarried rely on them to fetch water. But when they marry, they never help again "

Fatima Amazonas

Manager, Rio Grande do Norte Rural Poverty Reduction Project

Overcoming gender imbalances

The report also discusses how the improvements gave women the confidence to grow their social circle. Additionally, the initiatives started promoting greater awareness about the gender imbalances still present within the region.

“On the farm, when we try to do jobs usually done by men, they don’t let us,” complains Maria Ozilene da Silva. 

“Mothers whose sons are unmarried rely on them to fetch water. But when they marry, they never help again, meaning women become solely responsible for the activity,” said Fatima.

“The good news is that, as agricultural projects evolved, men have increasingly offered to join women in their duties.”

Similar studies shall soon be carried out in other parts within the northeast of Brazil supported by poverty reduction projects, such as Ceará and Sergipe. For these initiatives, giving women more power will be as important as providing the investments which free their heads from the burden of the metal barrels.


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