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Battle for Water on the Blue Planet

12 March 2013

On the last day of the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights, the film “También la lluvia” (“Even the rain”) raised the issue of access to water.

YouTube video

In “También la lluvia”, Iciar Bollain, the film director, stages the protests that took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2000, also known as the “Water War in Bolivia”.

A young Spanish filmmaker travels to Bolivia to make a film about Christopher Columbus to reveal the explorers’ inhumanity. But the Amerindians he hires to act in the film are fighting to prevent their water supply from being privatised, which will soon oblige the filmmaker to choose between his film and the local population’s struggle for their right to water.

Right to water: a fundamental human right jeopardized by privatisation

The right to water is now considered as a fundamental human right, but a few decades ago it was not that obvious. Indeed, right to water is not consecrated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. It is only very recently, in 2010, that access to drinking water was eventually established as a human right, with the aim of relieving the tensions that have been continuously intensifying over the past few years. On the initiative of Bolivia, the United Nations voted a resolution consecrating the right to water, though most developed countries voted against it.

The protests in Cochabamba were due to the privatisation of water supply (at the World Bank’s request): such contract was unacceptable for the local populations who had to pay a lot more, even if they did not have access to water. After several months of demonstrations, the Bolivian government finally decided not to privatise water supply.

During the discussion that followed the screening of the film, the panelists disagreed on the issue of privatisation: some said that right to water could not be guaranteed by private companies, especially for the poorest populations in developing countries, while others did not see the contradiction between right to water and privatisation.

In the majority of countries, public authorities supply water to the populations, but 10% of the sector is outsourced to private companies.

An issue of sanitation

One of the panelists stressed that access to water is not sufficient to guarantee the right to water: water has to be of good quality. This remains an issue of great concern since many people die because of contaminated water. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), access to water is defined by three elements:

–       20 liters per person per day

–       the source must be less than one kilometer away from households

–       water must be free of contamination from animals feces

Such definition lacks of precision and needs to be clarified and reinforced.

Access to water is also an issue of hygiene and sanitation: today, 5 million people in the world have access to mobile phones, while only 2.5 million have access to sanitation! This constitutes an infringement to human dignity.

One of the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 is to halve the number of people without access to safe water. At the moment, we are unfortunately still very far from achieving this goal…

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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