A Weight for Water: An Ecological Feminist Critique of Emerging Norms and Trends in Global Water Governance

By Darling, Kate | Melbourne Journal of International Law, June 2012 | Go to article overview

A Weight for Water: An Ecological Feminist Critique of Emerging Norms and Trends in Global Water Governance


Darling, Kate, Melbourne Journal of International Law


The human population is placing an ever-greater demand on the Earth's freshwater supply. These water systems are interdependent components of a planetary hydrologic cycle. Reflecting this reality, a global water governance framework, based on multilateral agreements, international institutions and rights regimes, has begun to emerge. As this framework becomes entrenched, so too does a normalised view of water as a commodity valued principally on the basis of its usefulness to certain forms of human endeavour. In this view, androcentric values receive priority while elements of care for, and protection of the flourishing of all human and non-human life are neglected. Looking at the issue from an ecological feminist perspective, this paper argues against treating water scarcity as a threat for which only a narrow spectrum of efficiency-based solutions are available. Instead, it suggests incorporating a diversity of cultural, spiritual and scientific views in our search for a fair and sustainable water governance framework.

CONTENTS

I   Introduction
II  A Brief Proposal and Defence of an Ecological Feminism
III An Argument for the Global Perspective on Water Governance
IV  Emerging Norms
     A 'Equitable and Reasonable Use' and 'Prevention of
          Significant Harm'.
     B Access to Water as a Human Right
V   Emerging Trends
     A Securitisation and Technocratisation of the Water Problem
     B Gender Mainstreaming in Global Water Programming
VI  Conclusion

I INTRODUCTION

At a basic level, every living thing requires water in order to maintain the biological processes associated with life. But the patchwork of blues of the great lakes regions and browns of the desert regions across the globe demonstrates clearly that water does not accumulate or flow in the same abundance everywhere. The confluence of water's necessity, its asymmetrical availability and its potential for contributing to wealth and power, make water systems a site of fervent contestation for the entities that depend on them. (1)

In recent decades, scientific study has confirmed that the hydrologic cycle spans not only communities, states and basins, but also the planet as a whole. (2) In response, a complex global water governance regime has begun to emerge. Through the following sections, I will argue that certain developing norms and trends at the global level contribute to and reinforce an androcentric (3) bias in water governance, which tends to result in a devaluation of the environment and non-human life. The normative companion to this assertion is that this is neither good nor necessary for the wellbeing of humans and the others with whom humans share the planet.

In support of my position, I will first provide an explanation and a brief defence of the particular form of ecological feminism that will flame my analysis of the global water governance regime. In doing so, I seek to lay bare the contingency of my own value structure and make plain how my valuing prompts me to arrive at certain conclusions. It is acknowledged that there exists a diversity of views based in culture and experience. The paradigm proposed here is only one--though hopefully a useful one--of many. Secondly, I will itemise the principal elements of the global water governance regime and suggest reasons why a focus on this level of organisation is important from an ecological feminist perspective. The intention in this section is to give a sense of the landscape and sketch the impetus for the remaining sections. Thirdly, I will scrutinise two central norms of the global regime: 'equitable and reasonable use' and 'prevention of significant harm'. I aim to demonstrate that as these norms crystallise, so too does an inherent devaluation of the environment and certain living beings that constitute part of that environment. Fourthly, I will assess the trend towards a 'right to water'. Drawing upon feminist critiques of human rights theory and practice I will try to show that a rights-based approach reinforces a detrimental anthropocentric and androcentric perspective. …

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