Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Women, Water and the Well

Published in OFF THE WALL – Fiji Times WEDNESDAY 30/3/11

Last Sunday the Gospel reading according to the lectionary was John 4:5-42 which is the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. It is a long reading but one rich in meaning, both in terms of Jesus as the “Water of Life” and the issues relating to cultural and ethnic differences between two groups of people living next to each other.

Yesterday I received an email from the Ecumenical Water Network's Seven Weeks for Water 2011, a Lenten Study on Water, Conflict and Just Peace.

According to EWN, the biblical stories of women at wells speak of hope and conversion. Rebekah demonstrates her kindness and generosity to Abraham’s servant and becomes the wife of Isaac. The Samaritan woman discovers the source of living water when Jesus defies all social conventions of the time and approaches her. Yet these positive experiences stand in sharp contrast to the every-day reality of many women and girls around the world.

Women and girls are particularly affected where clean water and safe sanitation are lacking. They are often responsible for fetching water, an exhausting task which deprives them of time and energy they could use to earn an income or go to school. The lack of clean water and sanitation is sorely felt by women and girls, for example during menstruation. It also puts them at risk of becoming victims of violence. Many women and girls face sexual harassment and rape when fetching water or when they have to go outside for lack of toilets in their homes. The burden of fetching water can aggravate domestic violence when women cannot cope with all the chores their husbands expect them to take on.

According to a report of the United Nations’ Development Program (UNDP), women and female children spend more than 10 million “person years” carrying water from remote sources each year.

With growing water scarcity, women and girls must travel longer distances to obtain water, a chore that often occupies several hours of the day. In some cases, women and children leave at dawn travelling miles to the nearest well, sometimes returning at midnight laden with containers of water. A woman might have to spend an entire night waiting at distant water pumps for her turn to fill her water container.

Tuesday’s Fiji Times highlighted the plight of families in the Low Cost Housing in Bulileka, Labasa. There residents are resorting to collecting rainwater and river water to alleviate their water problems. Squatter/informal settlement residents also struggle with water issues and often are forced to share or pay high prices for water from neighbours fortunate enough to have a regular clean water supply.

Rev. Dr Priscille Djomhoue, a professor of Greek and New Testament at the Protestant University of Central Africa in Cameroon writes that, water “is the source and powerhouse of life. Without it the earth would be an arid desert, where life would be impossible because of famine and drought. Even though we know that it can be the cause of death (through floods, drowning and water-borne diseases), water is generally seen and appreciated for the advantages and benefits that it brings to the life of living beings.”

She adds, “when Christ’s side was pierced and water flowed from it (John 19:34), he was like the rock from which water flowed to quench the thirst of God’s people as they journeyed to the Promised Land (1 Cor. 10:4; John 7:38). He is also the temple (John 2:19ff) from which the river flows to sustain and give life to the New Jerusalem (John 3:37; Rev. 22:1 &17). Moreover, the Holy Spirit, the life-giving power of God the creator, is compared to water (John 7:39), as a symbol of the whole of the Good News brought by Christ (John 7:37b-38), the symbol of the everlasting blessedness of the elect, whom the Lamb, their shepherd, leads to rich pastures.”

Last Tuesday World Water Day was celebrated globally. This week water woes continue here in Fiji and around the world. The challenge for communities and societies in the face of rising corporatisation and privatisation of water service providers continues to be profitability verses the basic human right to access to clean drinking water.

The loss of self-sufficiency is often followed by the loss of self esteem. We, who take our water for granted, need to be ever mindful of the preciousness of water. Let us support and accompany those to still struggle, even in our islands of abundance, for clean drinking and washing water.

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light and peace and the thirst to drink deeply from the water of life.

* Rev. J.S. Bhagwan holds a Bachelor of Divinity in Ecumenical Studies (Hons) from the Pacific Theological College and is a former faculty member of Methodist Davuilevu Theological College. He currently serves as the Circuit Minister of the Dudley Suva Circuit of the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma or of this newspaper.

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