Can you imagine a group of young women empowering other women using geospatial technology? From July 10 to 13 July 2019 in the First Geospatial Rally for Women in Rural Aqueducts took place, where 30 women from very different contexts met with the same goal, to build an empowering space, in the Nicoya Campus (north of Costa Rica) of the University of Costa Rica (UCR). This was done with the intention to learn from each other. The aim was to provide the necessary tools to develop water related projects in their working areas specifically in the rural aqueducts named ASADAS (Administrative Association of Water Systems) in which those women currently work.
Gender equality is central and critical to economic and human development, therefore women participating in conservancy and management of water is essential for developing rural communities (Anjal Prakash & et al, 2015). Using space technologies, such as global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) and Earth Observation Satellite data, combined with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles UAVs and geographic information systems (GIS), new women leadership can be promoted, to contribute to rural communities.
Rural aqueducts in Costa Rican communities
In Costa Rica there are Administrative Associations of the Community Aqueduct and Sewage Systems (ASADA by its acronym in Spanish). There are more than 2000 of these associations in Costa Rica. The ASADAs are in charge of managing, maintaining and developing the aqueduct and sewage systems in the communities where neither the local government (municipalities) nor the central government provide drinking water and sanitation services. (Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, 2015).
The ASADAS have a very important role in Costa Rica as they represent communities managing their own water, they also function as an instrument to empower locals to get involved in natural resources management (UNPD, 2019).This is an opportunity for women to take an active role in the administration of the rural aqueducts, because they are the ones who make more use of water during the day when doing house chores, such as washing, cooking, cleaning, grooming, etc. Due to traditional gender roles, women have not had much opportunities to management water systems. Most of the associations are headed by men and they are the ones who make the majority of decisions without getting women involved in the process.
According to the legislation for the ASADAs, only owners of a land plot, who subscribe to the service, can be involved in decision making. Unfortunately, these are hardly ever women
The first rally experience: Study area and methodology
The geospatial rally was developed with women representing the ASADAS of communities located in the Chorotega (North Pacific) and North-North Region of Costa Rica. This area of the country has micro-climatic regions that create a wide variety of environments, dominated by big plains which are the most populated areas and where most agricultural activity is developed.
People in these micro-climatic regions are characterized by depending on livestock activity and agriculture. In recent years there has been a significant pressure to natural resources caused by single crop farming, especially in the North Region. The pressure on natural resources in turn triggered reconfigurations of working opportunities, gender inequality and access to water and a healthy environment.
The rally was an educational process in technology and innovation. Its main goal was to enhance the use of geospatial technologies to innovate in the search for solutions to problems that affect the ASADA and affected communities. The UCR`s School of Geography gave educational talks with professors and female students in various areas of interest. such as: Disaster Risk Management, Climate Change, Water Resources, Environmental Management, Innovations, Drones and Geospatial Technology. The participants applied the acquired knowledge to prototype a solution for their chosen problem and presented it to a panel of experts at the end of four days of rally.
Successful rally results and experiences
Through free apps and training in environmental and geospatial technologies, the participants created 10 prototypes (10 groups of 3 participants were formed) with different approaches.
One of the prototypes, that was successfully implemented, is the project of Daniella Díaz, Ariana Román and Zurely Núñez. They have designed a tool to survey residents of a zone of the Chorotega area, called Nandayure and Hojancha with a GPS cellphone app. “The app allows them to mark the exact location of each resident (through a geolocator) and survey whether they have an effective way to treat the water they use on their properties” (Voz de Guanacaste, 2019). “The prototype that we are designing is a way to estimate the risk for people when water isn’t treated, for example, and verify if their property uses a drainage system or not, because there are people who have pigs who opened a well and if there is no drainage system, everything ends up in the aquifer,” said Díaz, who administers the water association in Nandayure” (Voz de Guanacaste, 2019). The project will help to gather information about water use in different zones and identify focus of contamination with tools like GPS and digital forms. All the results it can be accessed on digital maps (see figure 1).
Another implemented prototype was the one of Yendri Sandoval, Jennifer Blanco and Nayeri Álvarez. They had designed a project for water protection trough reforestation in the high catchment area of the ASADA of their communities in San Rafael of Guatuso at the North-North Region. The application will help to improve environmental education between ASADA of San Rafael of Guatuso and the high school in that community. The application was implemented in October 2019. A reforestation day was organized and almost 300 different species of trees planted. Georeferencing every single one of these new trees will allow to monitor their impact on water quality in the high basin area.
As of today, each one of the 10 groups formed in July 2019 continues to work on their projects at their own pace. Continuous follow up is provided by Geography School of University of Costa Rica.
“Supply of clean and easily accessible water services answers to the immediate practical needs of women. But it will only answer to the strategic needs if such services involve women in decision making, management and maintenance; and if the time saved as a result of the provision of the water can be used for the advancement of women” (Colleen Lowe Morna, 2000).
Activities such as technology rallies or hackathons are often confined to academic spaces and university students. This rally proved that bringing these activities to rural areas where solutions are most needed and specifically involving women, a population that in these areas has little or no access to technology education, is beneficial for the overall improvement of water management.
The experience probed the commitment of these women and communities to take full advantage of the knowledge acquired to implement the developed prototypes. It also poses the challenge of providing continued feedback and mentoring when these women and their communities are far away from the main cities with often times limited access to communication tools (WhatsApp, email, etc).
The next step for the project is to share the experience in regional publications. The project will continue in the form of a second rally, which will focus on women, water and agriculture. This second stage involves women from the farming areas of the country, and eventually will lay the foundation for a series of rallies in the different Central American countries (Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Belize, and the Dominican Republic).