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Equity and dignity for women start with clean water access
Women and water Challenges
Across low-income countries, women and girls have primary responsibility for management of household water supply, sanitation and health. Often, fulfilling these roles precludes any other occupation or participation in education, and their marginalization is compounded by the indignity and insecurity of having nowhere private to go to the toilet. Addressing the needs of females in relation to water, sanitation and hygiene is a key driver in achieving gender equity and locking the potential of half of global society.
Girls and women are particularly affected when communities lack clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.
In many countries, the presence or absence of a safe and sufficient water supply and improved sanitation facilities has a disproportionate effect on the lives of women and girls for three main reasons. First, women and girls usually bear the responsibility for collecting water, which is often very time-consuming and arduous. Second, women and girls are more vulnerable to abuse and attack while walking to and using a toilet or open defecation site. And third, women have specific hygiene needs during menstruation, pregnancy and child rearing.
Typically responsible for unpaid domestic work, girls and women are often expected to collect water from unsafe sources like rivers, streams and holes in the ground. Carrying full water containers, as heavy as 20kg, on their heads or backs leaves its mark on them physically, contorting their spines and leading to problems in childbirth and later in life.
Collecting water – often for hours every day – can make them late for school or unable to work, putting them at a disadvantage to men and boys. And drinking, cooking and washing with this dirty water exposes them to deadly diarrhoeal diseases every day.
Not having a decent toilet at home or in public places can be especially difficult for women. It can put them at increased risk of harassment and physical and sexual violence while going to the toilet in the open. It makes managing their periods much more challenging, causing girls to miss school and women to stay home from work. Without clean water, soap or a toilet, keeping themselves and their family healthy is incredibly difficult.
Water insecurities in Urban Settings
Unequal access to water in urban living is highly gendered and contentious. Women living in low-income areas and informal settlements in the cities regularly have to undergo hardships to access water from overstressed shared water sources in the absence of individual utility piped connections within their premises.
Water supply is frequently interrupted for several days, women struggle to store water, design innovative ways for their families to save water and even cut back on their own water usage at the cost of their health and hygiene to cope with water shortages. These situations leave leave them be highly water insecure.
Valuing Water, valuing livelihoods
Water security—wherein everyone has access to a reliable, affordable, and safe supply of water, regardless of their means—is one of the greatest human challenges of the 21st century. It is inextricably intertwined with the most fundamental aspects of human development and the social and economic well-being of communities throughout the world. To ignore it, or to assume that it is only a problem of the developing world is to be blind to the errors our egos have cause. It’s time to check our privilege and be part of the solution.
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