Journal Focuses on Women's Role with Water
According to the World Health Organization, women and children in Africa spend around 40 billion hours collecting water each year, but women are systematically excluded from all decision making in areas of water and sanitation.
After seeing this firsthand, Caroline D’Angelo and Dakota Dobyns, two graduates of Penn’s Master of Environmental Studies program, decided to create wH2O, a journal that brings attention to issues surrounding sanitation and clean water access for women worldwide.
In 2011, the two travelled to India and Sri Lanka — two countries that show trends similar to African countries — and went to a conference at the Bengal Engineering and Science University. At the conference, D’Angelo and Dobyns both noticed a bizarre imbalance in gender representation.
“My colleague and I were the only women in the room, and yet they were making big decisions about sanitation and water [which affects both men and women],” D’Angelo said.
It didn’t make sense to D’Angelo and Dobyns that these kinds of decisions would be made without any input from females. When they returned to Penn, the two students took initiative.
“We came back from that trip and thought, ‘How can we help?’” D’Angelo said. She and Dobyns decided to create the journal “with the idea that Penn has the resources to make this issue something to be studied, to be put in the media, to be evaluated.”
The first issue of wH2O came out this past April, and the second is set to come out in spring 2013.
“We’ve already received too many submissions for our 2013 issue, which is a great problem to have as a journal,” wH2O managing director and recent Penn graduate Abby Waldorf said.
Having grown up in India, second-year graduate student Aishwarya Nair felt very strongly about the issues in wH2O.
“Coming from a developing country, the issues that are explored in this journal are very close to my own interests,” Nair, who holds a position on the wH2O editorial board, said. “For a truly holistic model on sustainable development, both at the macro and meso levels, we need to include all parts of society, and working with wH2O is helping me understand a lot of the gender-related issues.”
One of the faculty advisors for wH2O, earth and environmental science professor Stanley Laskowski, is very proud of the journal. “There’s nothing like it in the world, that I know of,” he said. “It’s a place where people can go and have their papers peer reviewed and get published and it goes out electronically and by hard copy. It’s a really a great way to exchange information.”
With more venues for serious research, Laskowski believes there is a huge possibility for improvement in water and sanitation. An important step is “to find ways for women to have higher positions in the government and with companies, so they have a more direct voice,” Laskowski explained. “I think it will happen slowly as there’s more awareness.”
According to Nair, women will thrive in these leadership positions because of their close relationship with the environment.
“Whether it is water or other natural resources … women play an essential role in their management but are often ignored or neglected during the actual decision-making process,” she said. “While wH2O focuses on the water aspect, these are the questions that we try to answer, both because of the impact that women have on the environment and alternatively, the impact of the environment on women’s health and well-being.”