Water and Women: An Intersection of Water Accessibility and Feminism

With the rise of New Wave Feminism in the modern era, pictures of Betty Friedman or Beyoncé may flash through the minds of many when asked about gender equality. But for the thousands of women and girls in South Africa collectively, the journey to equality is even farther than most of us realize—the distance of walking to the moon and back 13 times. (1)


In most parts of the United States, water access is turning the faucet to the left. But to girls and children in Africa and Asia accessibility to water is on average a 3.7 mile walk away. (2)

Families need this water for cooking, cleaning, drinking and washing every single day. Women are disproportionally affected by the lack of water access in most rural communities because the duty of water collection typically fall to their shoulders as care givers. A basic life necessity for all members of a family is an immensely heavy burden to bear. 


On average daily, women and children globally spend 200 million hours collecting water. (3)

This is time not spent on income generating activities, attending school, caring for family member or pursuing their own goals and aspirations. And time is our most valuable resource as humanity.


World wide less than 1 in 3 people have proper access to a toilet. (4) And in many countries, women are not allowed to relieve themselves during the day due to cultural expectations and restrictions. They must wait for the darkness of night to maintain their privacy and dignity, a precedent resulting in infection and limitation. With merely 45% of schools in developing countries offering adequate sanitation facilities (5) going to a latrine or toilet facility at school is either impossible or indecent for young women. This factor often leads to many girls quitting school early when they reach puberty and require increased privacy. Statistically, one in every four girls does not complete primary school in comparison with one in seven boys (6). But when provided with clean water and a toilet facility, school enrollment rates for girls improve by over 15%-- especially if they no longer are forced to walk miles every day to fetch water (7). The availability of proper waste facilities allows girls the freedom to use restrooms with privacy and dignity. Without reasonable access to clean water and sanitations at home, in schools or workplaces women are sentenced to an eternal of lack of time and opportunity resulting in disease and dishonor. Without education or opportunity, the poor will continuously remain poor, the poorest of these are often women and children.


These statistics have an even larger economic consequence. For every dollar spent on sanitation and water in the US, there is a four dollar USD economic return8.. Research has proven that for every 10% increase in women’s literacy, a country’s economy can grow by 0.3% (9). The lack of women’s education and sanitation ripples out into a country’s GDP, affecting their international trade efficiency and strength and slowing economic growth in these developing nations from the inside out.

Women represent 40% of the global labor force, however in Sub-Saharan Africa 40 billion working hours (roughly a year’s worth of labor equating the entire workforce in the country of France) are given up every single year to water collection (10). While the correltion between water access and betterment of humanity come in no shortage, the international urgency on this important issue is lacking.


If it was an easy or quick problem to solve, we probably already would have. The lack of funding, engineering complications, remote location, global prioritization and political red tape is overwhelming. But there is truly hope for change. Thousands of organizations, NGOs and social enterprise companies are making waves-- no pun intended, in the WaSH community. One of them being, the Pure Water Access Project. With a mindset of sustainability and equal access, issues such as these are our lifeblood. Change does not have to be large to be important. Pledge today as a woman, a mother, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a father, a believer in world in which the simple classification of gender is not so heavy a burden to bear.


1. Water For Women, UN Water.org http://www.unwater.org/fileadmin/user_upload/worldwaterday2015/docs/Water%20For%20Women.pdf

2. A. Roberts, 2008 http://bit.ly/194ysCr

3. UN Water Water for Women http://www.unwater.org/fileadmin/user_upload/worldwaterday2015/docs/Water%20For%20Women.pdf

4. Facts About Water and Sanitation, Water.org (http://water.org/water-crisis/water-sanitation-facts/ )

5. Raising even more clean hands: Advancing health, learning and equity through WASH in schools. UNICEF 2012

6. World Bank, 2012/UNDP, 2009. http://bit.ly/1zSc2wW

7.  UN: http://bit.ly/1DWAQET Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage.

8. WHO http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/2012/globalcosts.pdf

9. UNICEF. "Water, Sanitation and Hygiene" http://www.unicef.org/media/media_45481.html

10. World Bank, 2012/UNDP, 2009.

Fellow Olivia Adkins