I have been following with some interest the ongoing debates on social media regarding the lack of women’s representation on the government’s ‘Task Force to Prepare Roadmap, Action Plan for a Water Secure Pakistan’. I do share the discomfort of many of my colleagues regarding the lack of women’s representation on the task force, and in the entire water sector decision making in Pakistan. Again, the conversation about women’s representation is not about tokenism.Recently, I have been working on a research project on defining the linkages between different UN sponsored Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There were 17 sustainable development goals defined by the UN, as part of its 2030 sustainable development agenda. The goals, among others include no poverty, zero hunger, climate action and most importantly for our purposes SDG5: Gender Equality and SDG6: Clean Water and Sanitation. My research team undertook intensive literature review to come to the conclusion that gender equality and clean water and sanitation are not only indivisibly linked to each other, but in fact, the remaining 15 SDGs could simply not be attained without starting with gender equality and clean water and sanitation. Almost 90 percentof illnesses in the developing world are because of poor water quality or poor sanitation. Also, for example, I am all ears if anyone thinks that SDG3: good health and well-being, can be achieved without clean water and sanitation. Or that education and poverty reduction are possible without good health. We go on to build an entire structure in our project positing that the starting point for attaining SDGs has to be gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and also SDG12: Responsible Consumption and Production.Why is gender equality, inextricably linked to the provision of clean water and sanitation? The answer is simply that women are the ones who provide the entirety of labour when in house water supply is not available. Women are also the ones’ who bear the disproportionately greater emotional and physical cost of family illnesses because of their traditional caregiving and nurturing roles in most societies. In the poorer parts of urban Pakistan it is the children and especially the girl child that provides the labour for fetching water from water vendors. I recall even seeing my own urban middle class mother’s uncontrollable anxieties and conflicts around water supply for the household. Women are the strongest constituency for the provision of clean water and sanitation and the biggest victims of its absence. My research team undertook intensive literature review to come to the conclusion that gender equality and clean water and sanitation are not only indivisibly linked to each other, but in fact, the remaining 15 SDGs could simply not be attained without starting with gender equality and clean water and sanitationThe lack of women’s representation in the task force or for that matter in the entire water establishment in Pakistan is symbolic of our twisted priorities in the water sector. But more than symbolism, the masculine concerns with large dams, India, water going to the sea are also a cause of the dismal state of water and sanitation all over the country. Ask, how many domestic water supply and sanitation experts, regardless of their gender are on the government’s task force, and you will have your answer.If Pakistan were not such a sexist society, and if the water sector was not an even more hyper-sexist segment of an already sexist society, the membership of the task force, the structure of the water debate, and indeed the priorities of the state in the water sector would have been very different from what they are. Women can provide the social energy and political push to make water supply and sanitation a top priority of the water sector in Pakistan. All that technically trained men can do is throw abstractions like cubic meters, bogeymen like Indian dam makers, and pie in the sky, high dams in earthquake prone zones at the public. Women are the experts and the stakeholders of the part of the water sector that matters the most. It is on their labour and their backs, everyone gets to eat and have a drink of water. They are the ones who pay the price of poor water quality through sleepless nights and back breaking labour of taking care of the sick and the elderly.Their exclusion from the formal water bureaucracy is not only indicative of the sexism, but also of the masculine obsession with heroic engineering. Close to 97 percent of the water in Pakistan is used for agriculture, where it is mostly used for cash crops like cotton, rice and sugar cane for export. The benefits of these cash crops accrue to moustachioed oily men running sugar and textile mills. Meanwhile, women, still have to wake up before sunrise to fetch water, or beg the WASA valve-men to turn on the supply. Surely, they deserve a voice in the water debate and policy.The writer is a reader in Politics and Environment at the Department of Geography, King’s College, London. His research includes water resources, hazards and development geography. He also publishes and teaches on critical geographies of violence and terrorPublished in Daily Times, October 18th 2018.