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Safe water and sanitation: A challenge for gender equality

It has become increasingly accepted that women should play an important role in water management and that this role could be enhanced through the strategy of gender mainstreaming. The importance of involving both women and men in the management of water and sanitation and access-related questions has been recognized at the global level, The differences and inequalities between women and men influence how individuals respond to changes in water resources management.

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Without clean and safe water there is no gender equality. Although access to water and sanitation has been recognized for more than a decade as a basic human right, the way in which women and girls bear the worst consequences of water scarcity, ranging from a worse education to a greater number of diseases. And it is that the importance of water for sustainable development goes far beyond a mere physical issue to fully enter into gender and public health issues, mainly in less developed countries.

The main problem that hinders the relationship between water and gender equality is a matter of time. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) points out those women perform up to 80% of informal unpaid work related to water supply, especially on the African continent. This means that, in less developed countries where there are no adequate infrastructures that guarantee access to safe water and sanitation in each house, women are responsible for finding this resource, vital for their families to be able to drink, cook, clean themselves and survive.

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This marked gender role can translate into millions of hours wasted in activities such as queuing for water or traveling long distances to get supplies. According to estimates by the NGO WaterAid, on any given day, women around the world spend a total of 200 million hours collecting water, a figure that rises to 466 million hours each day if you take time into account lost in looking for a place to defecate safely.

An educational problem

The number of hours wasted in collecting and transporting water not only poses a problem for the labor integration of women, who on many occasions cannot carry out paid activities due to the enormous fatigue that this task entails, but also affects educational integration one of the smallest. Numerous studies have documented that girls in developing countries, especially in rural areas, spend most of the day doing strenuous housework, limiting the time available for study.

Of course, this problem is further exacerbated when access to water and toilets is poor. In fact, it is precisely at school that the lack of adequate sanitation ends up affecting girls the most, since the absence of a safe and private place to change and wash makes it difficult for girls to manage menstruation. In countries such as Mozambique and Madagascar, where 44% and 36% of the population, respectively, have no alternative but to defecate in the open, it is estimated that girls miss up to four days of school a month, and many others simply drop out.

According to an investigation carried out two years ago by the UN Human Rights Commission in Sierra Leone, there are “more and more children, and especially girls, who are on the street very late at night or from four in the morning looking for of water”, a situation that” increases their vulnerability and contributes to increasing teenage pregnancy, child labor, high school dropout rates, and low educational performance”.

Read more: Pakistani Women: Major beneficiaries of PM Khan’s sanitation drive

Great impact on health

But beyond this serious issue, one of the main problems of the lack of water in developing countries is that it also poses greater health problems for women. According to the conclusions of a study carried out by researchers at George Washington University (USA) in 2018, only the daily practice of walking several kilometers carrying cans of water causes musculoskeletal damage, soft tissue damage, and can lead to many women. to early arthritis.

The lack of adequate sanitation in many underdeveloped rural areas also means that women are the ones who have to deal in the front line with water-borne diseases such as cholera or schistosomiasis, an infection caused by parasitic worms that live in water. sweet. According to the UN, more than 3 billion people suffer health risks from the discharge of untreated sewage into rivers, lakes, and oceans, and each year more than 2.2 million people die in developing countries as a result of preventable diseases that are strongly associated with the lack of access to safe drinking water and, although there are no death statistics divided by gender, from WaterAid they calculate that these types of diseases are twice as likely to affect women and girls.

Of course, diseases are not the only threat to the physical integrity of women related to the lack of clean water. According to a survey published at the beginning of 2020 by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the increase in the demand for water in homes caused by the coronavirus pandemic means that women and girls spend more time at water points, where they are increasingly suffering different forms of gender violence.

The reasons for this violence, which especially affects displaced or refugee women in Africa, are various. On the one hand, queues and increased sanitation needs due to the coronavirus pandemic are forcing women to walk longer distances. On the other hand, the violation of the curfew imposed in many underdeveloped countries turns out to be inevitable, which increases the risk of suffering harassment and violence at the hands of military and police officers. Additionally, social distancing requirements mean that walking in groups, a traditional safety measure is impossible right now.

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Drive real changes

Empowering women and girls in developing countries would not only serve to address these problems related to the lack of safe water, but it also encourages prosperous economies and inclusive societies, as well as boosting productivity and growth. Already in 2012, the then Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Lakshmi Pur, called for the need to “recognize women as managers of water resources, farmers and irrigators, who contribute to guaranteeing sustainable food production and consumption and safeguarding the environment and water resources within households and communities ”.

An example of the benefits that closing the gender gap in access to water could have could be the World Bank’s Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project in Morocco, designed to reduce the burden of girls who are traditionally in charge of obtaining water, in order to improve their school attendance. In the six provinces where the project was implemented, girls’ school attendance increased by 20% in four years, as easy access to drinking water reduces the time spent by women and girls by 50% to 90%. Girls to get water and therefore improve their educational and labor integration.

Similar strategies have worked in Pakistan, where placing water sources closer to homes was associated with more time spent working in the market by women, or in Tanzania, where a survey found that girls’ attendance at school was 15% higher for girls whose homes were 15 minutes or less from a water source than for girls whose homes were an hour or more away.

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The writer is a Journalist based in Indian-occupied Kashmir. He can be reached at bwahid32@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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