On this, International Women's Day, we are prompted to ask: To what extent is the global water and sanitation crisis largely a women's issue? After all, women almost exclusively shoulder the burden of water collection, suffer the most from lack of sanitation access and its resulting indignities, and, as primary caregivers, are affected the most when children fall sick with water-related diseases. Fully involving women in community water and sanitation programs, as WaterAid does, ensures that programs meet their needs. It also helps equip women with the skills and confidence they need to tackle other development challenges in their communities.
Written by Libby Plumb, senior communications advisor for WaterAid America, the post below reflects on and celebrates the role of women in the WASH crisis through photos. In her thirteen years with WaterAid, Plumb has undertaken a variety of roles in both the UK and U.S. and has visited many of the organization’s country programs. Plumb has a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from the University of Oxford. A version of this post appears on the new FC-powered WASHfunders.org blog.
Credit: WaterAid/Eva-Lotta Jansson
The indignity of lacking somewhere private to go to the bathroom is particularly felt by women. In many cultures women have to wait until it is dark to relieve themselves, causing discomfort and sometimes illness. It can also expose women to the risk of both sexual harassment and animal attacks. In Sandimhia Renato's village in Mozambique, women have to cross an unstable bridge to go to the toilet. Some have drowned crossing in the dark or at high tide.
Credit: WaterAid/Abir Abdullah
The world’s poorest communities are generally male-dominated, so extra effort has to be taken to ensure that women are equally included in all stages of water and sanitation programs, including planning, construction, and decision-making. A lack of education for women in developing countries means that very few women can be decision-makers, yet enabling women's voices to be heard is a crucial step in development. Above, women are pictured making latrine slabs for a WaterAid sanitation program in Bangladesh.
Credit: WaterAid/Jon Spaull
WaterAid helps to elevate women's status in society by giving them positions of responsibility in the water committees established to manage new water supplies. Zeinabu Kayisi (above), chairperson of a village water committee in the Salima District of Malawi, told us: "Being able to maintain the pump myself makes me feel independent and strong!"'
Credit: WaterAid/Libby Plumb
WaterAid often chooses women to become hygiene educators. Zubeyda Gudeta (pictured above), helping women wash their hands before eating at a wedding reception, works as a hygiene promoter for WaterAid in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. She told us, "There has been a great change since the WaterAid project. Before this, some people didn't wash their things like food containers. Now they wash their pots and plates three times. Now, people are healthier in this area than in other areas."
Credit: WaterAid/Caroline Irby
A safe water source makes everyday household tasks much easier. More importantly, mothers and expectant mothers, like Sila Adeke from the Katakwi District of Uganda (above), no longer fear for the health of their children. "The borehole is much closer so I can fetch more water than before. Washing clothes is so easy now and I can use a whole jerry can for washing plates. The rate of illness is much lower. With this new source my child will grow up healthy and I am not concerned that it will grow sick."
Credit: WaterAid/Jon Spaull
The privacy that comes with safe, clean bathrooms is especially important for women with disabilities for whom leaving the house is more challenging. Suffering from impaired vision, Rukhmani Devi from India (above) is pleased her family now has a private latrine: "When I had my eye operation [for cataracts], I realized just how convenient having a latrine is, as before I would have had to go to the fields. Life is good now, as before people would be able to see us using the fields and we weren't able to relax -- instead we were always alert and worried."
Credit: WaterAid/Suzanne Porter
When women are freed from having to spend hours each day collecting water, they have more time available for other activities that can help them to escape poverty. Mary Chukle (above) from Takkas in Nigeria credits the new water supply with enabling her to open a business: "Before we got the well, we had to trek down to the river with the children and it took up to two hours. Because of the time I save now from getting water the old way, I was able to work more and apply for a loan to buy a small village shop which I now run."
Do you have a story about how women are meeting development challenges in their communities? Feel free to share in the comments section below...
-- Libby Plumb