2013 is the International Year of Water Cooperation, and during World Water Week is a perfect time to examine what water means to women around the world. Leaders in the water sector will gather in Stockholm this week, to share successes, discuss challenges, and discuss the future of water programs. We can only hope that the participants keep in mind the population most affected by water – women.
Improved access to clean water, for most, brings to mind good health and reduction of disease, but it means so much more. In the minds of those receiving a new water supply, time-saving and other social benefits are of greater importance. Women are the primary collectors of water in the developing world, spending on average six hours each day collecting water for their households, including carrying up to 40 pounds of water on their heads or backs. Women are also the primary caregiver in most households, and must spend time caring for family members and children who may get sick from contaminated water. Can you imagine a world in which women didn’t have to spend that amount of time everyday collecting water, or if they had more time because their family didn’t get sick from the water so often?
Clean water close by means time to women; it means opportunity; it means autonomy.
Often, adolescent girls must join in the effort of collecting water for their families when they are old enough. In many places, this also means missing school or dropping out altogether, due to the amount of time water collection takes. Not only does clean water mean opportunity and autonomy, it also means education for girls. A World Bank study found that a 15 minute reduction in water collection time increased girls’ school attendance by eight to twelve percent, and the provision of clean water at schools provides an incentive for girls to attend. WaterAid reports that more years of education for girls means more healthier and better educated families, and a way out of poverty.
What would our world look like if the simple act of having clean water nearby was realized?
More women would be educated, employed, leaders in their communities, and millions would be on their way out of poverty.
Watch this video from water.org, in which Jodie Foster explains that for women, water is personal.