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Meeting the Millennium Development Goals through the Human Right to Water: A gendered analysis in India from actor oriented perspective
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Land and Water Resources Engineering, Water Management.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6166-4992
Department of Sociology of Law, Lund University, Lund.
Department of Sociology of Law, Lund University, Lund.
Department of Sociology of Law, Lund University, Lund.
2008 (English)In: Meeting global challenges in research cooperation: Proceedings of a conferenceand workshop in Uppsala,May 27–29, 2008 / [ed] Ingrid Karlsson and Kristina Röing de Nowina, Uppsala: Uppsala universitet, 2008, 338-339 p.Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

One of the targets of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015. It is believed that one of the ways to add impetus to the ongoing efforts is to explicitly recognize water as a ‘human right’, with a focus on ensuring the right of women and children, who are seen to be the worst sufferers from lack of sustainable water access. It is assumed that focus on the human right to water (HRW) would serve as a means to increase the pressure on governments and international agencies to translate the right into specific national and international legal obligations and responsibilities, thus paving the way for ensuring water access for all (UNESCO, 2006).

This assumption has been examined by the authors within the scope of two different research projects supported by Sida-Sarec. Using an actor-oriented perspective that further made a distinction between ‘implementation’ and ‘realization’ of human rights, these projects attempt to understand how the globally formulated norms concerning water as a human right get translated into action at the local level. The first project looked at the HRW of women while the second one focuses on the right of children. The research is based upon empirical studies in different parts of India and refers to the right to water situation in areas affected by problems of water quality and quantity.

The findings of the research indicate that realization of HRW essentially involves dynamics at the ‘third level’ of human rights implementation. This constitutes the interface between the community and the agency where action towards fulfillment of the right is ultimately unfolded. Following the rights-based approach to development, two kinds of actors were identified – the ‘rights-holders’ (women and children) and the ‘duty-bearers’ (government, NGOs, international development agencies). The contextual factors that influence the realization of the HRW of women and children as separate right-holder groups can be classified into two categories: first, the nature of human rights approach adopted by the agency (if any) and second, the socio-cultural factors in the community context that lead to re-construction of the right at the local level. The dynamics of interaction between the two sets of factors are complex and need to be understood as contextual realities. On the whole, the latter have been found to have significant influence on the equitable, effective and sustainable realization of the HRW (Singh, 2008, Singh et al., 2008).

From the preliminary findings of the research, it can be concluded that mere legislative actions at international and national forums for implementing the HRW may not offer enough benefits towards ensuring progress towards the MDGs. There is a need to explore the dynamics at the ‘third’ level and consider how the learnings can be integrated into the global and state initiatives so as to promote water justice for women and children.


UNESCO (2006) Water: A shared Responsibility. World Water Development Report 2.

Singh, N. (2008) Gender and water from human rights perspective: Role of context in translating international norms into local action. Rural Society, 18(3) (forthcoming).

Singh, N., Wickenberg P., Åström K., Hydén, H. (2008) Children’s right to water as a contested domain: Gendered reflections from India. Development, 51(1):102-107.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Uppsala universitet, 2008. 338-339 p.
Keyword [en]
Human right to water, women, children, access to water, India
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-62735ISBN: 978–91–975741–9–8OAI: diva2:481028
SIDA Conference on ‘Meeting global challenges through Research Cooperation’, Uppsala, Sweden, May 2008
QC 20120123Available from: 2012-01-20 Created: 2012-01-20 Last updated: 2012-01-23Bibliographically approved

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