Over 600 million people struggle to access clean water for drinking and sanitation worldwide. While for many this is a communal problem, the burden of finding and collecting water often falls onto women. In developing nations, gender inequality becomes apparent when observing water management within communities. Women are responsible for this vital resource, yet often excluded from larger water management decisions. Engaging women in community water management solutions empowers them and establishes greater equity in developing communities.
The Burden of Water
Women and children bear the majority of the burden when it comes to water collection. Every day, they collectively spend almost 200 million hours locating and obtaining water for their communities. Over 50 million more hours are spent searching for sanitary places to relieve themselves. Hours devoted to collecting water take away time from education, employment and family. Additionally, in some areas, water scarcity is so severe that women have to settle for dirty and contaminated water for drinking, cooking and cleaning, exposing them to water-borne diseases and parasites.
Providing sources of clean water and sanitation to women in developing nations has the potential to do much more than reducing health risks. The hours women and children reclaim when they get access to clean water in their homes or villages can instead be used to pursue higher education, start small businesses or even grow food for their families. One study conducted by UNICEF in Tanzania found that cutting down the time needed for collecting water from 30 minutes to 15 increased rates of girls attending school by over 10 percent. However, since women are rarely actively included in the process of supplying and financing water management solutions, their perspectives are not addressed in the long run.
Access to Clean Water’s Impact on Women
When women get the opportunity to elevate their responsibility for water beyond collection and into management, their potential can blossom. Water.org features stories of the impact access to clean water can make on the lives of women. In India, they found that women are often forced to collect water from outside their communities due to a lack of funds for installing water taps near their homes.
This inspired the creation of WaterCredit, a service providing affordable, short-term loans going towards constructing taps that offer long-term access to clean water in developing communities. Women like Manjula make up nearly 90 percent of borrowers, reducing the need to travel so far outside their communities to obtain water. This gives them the time and energy needed to manage personal businesses, which earn enough income to easily repay the loan from WaterCredit. Water.org reports that WaterCredit provided around 4.6 million loans, amassing a total value of 1.7 billion dollars, demonstrating what a feasible and impactful solution this service offers.