UN Stories, U.S. Voices: Marcia Brewster
Water is a human right. Clean, free, accessible, unobstructed access to the world’s most important resource is crucial to reduce inequalities. Marcia Brewster has spent her 40-year career with the United Nations advancing SDG 6—Clean Water and Sanitation—which works toward safe and affordable drinking water.
Marcia is a member of UNA-USA’s National Council, Vice President and Program Director of the UNA Westchester Chapter, and Co-chair of the 2020 Global Engagement Summit. Her involvement in the UN, however, starts much further back. While living in Thailand in the 1970s, Marcia was recruited to work at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia in the Pacific (UN-ESCAP). It was there that she began to develop an interest in the confluence of gender and water, seeing how the burden of obtaining clean water for cooking, cleaning, and bathing often fell on the shoulders of women. Quite literally, too, as women are overwhelmingly the ones who walk miles to collect water, carrying the basins on their heads, backs or shoulders to their families. This form of unpaid labor has been noted by UN Women as an obstacle that must be overcome for us to move toward gender equality. Marica continued this important work as Task Manager of the interagency Gender and Water Task Force, a program of UN-Water that involved 18 UN agencies and various NGOs. She was integral in various International Water Resources and Sanitation decades, the International Year of Freshwater (2003), and world summits on sustainable development. During our conversation, Marcia reminisced on how, for several years, she wrote the UN Secretary General’s message on World Water Day, which occurs annually on March 22.
Water resource management became the core of Marcia’s career, as she wrote countless policy briefs to help people, especially women, gain access to water and sanitation all across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Her work did not go unnoticed as she was asked to speak at several World Water Day and World Water Forum events, universities and other international venues. She’s written several publications on water resources and gender issues. Since her retirement, she has served as a consultant to the World Water Council, UNESCO, UNDP, the Global Environment Facility and the Nature Conservancy, among others. Marcia continued her career and her global travel schedule after retirement. She serves on her local Water Advisory Committee and has been involved in a number of projects along the Hudson River.
At this historic 75th anniversary of the United Nations, Marcia sees a bright future ahead, saying,
“If we can get women involved at the grassroots level to not only negotiate peace agreements but also implement peace agreements, I think the UN will be doing a great service to humanity.”
The need for clean water exists globally, and it is something many Americans take for granted, even though contaminated water is a serious public health issue, even in the United States. Contaminated water often affects underserved urban or rural areas of the U.S. where the pipelines have been badly neglected for decades. The amount of lead in the water has begun to have disastrous health effects on innocent human lives.
Including women in decisions that impact the actions of their everyday lives are crucial. Marcia also worked to involve young people in UNA Westchester Chapter events, discussing how invaluable their input is to implement policies that will then further impact them in the future. This has been particularly evident in young people’s climate action projects. That connection from the international level to the local level is important when trying to involve people with the work of the UN.
As we recognize the importance and value of clean water this month, may this be a good reminder to people everywhere that every voice matters when it comes to human rights.
In a series called “UN Stories, U.S. Voices,” we will be finding opportunities throughout the year to highlight some of the amazing histories and connections UNA-USA members have to the UN to celebrate its 75th anniversary.