A Heavy Burden: Women and Water Collection


Women collecting water and bathing at a spring water source outside of Do Digue near Arcahaie, Haiti.

Around the world, 785 million people do not have access to safe water and sanitation [1]. In many communities, women and girls are often the only family members responsible for water collection, storage and use [2]. Thus, women and girls pay an unequal price for poor water quality.


Gender Inequality


On average, women and girls spend 200 million hours collecting water every day [1]. The time it takes women and girls to go get water is time not spent on other vital work—or, as UNICEF aptly states, “collecting water is a colossal waste of their valuable time” [3]. This includes working to earn money or getting an education. The need to collect water often prevents girls from finishing school or even attending in the first place. These trends help maintain gender inequality. As a result, the risks that poor water quality, sanitation and hygiene pose to women continues.


Risky, Dangerous Work


Having water is vital for families to live, yet the stressful, and often dangerous job of water collection falls mostly on the shoulders of women and girls (literally—their shoulders, neck, and head). Collecting water every day can be difficult as water sources may be far away and getting to them can be perilous. Even if the water is collected from a safe source, the long trek back home and often unsanitary storage conditions increases the risk of contamination before anyone takes their first sip [3].


The physical burden of the water collection and transportation process on women is significant. Studies consistently show that women who currently or previously carried water (especially on their head) show evidence of cervical spinal compression [4]. These back and neck problems are a major cause of pain and disability. In addition to this long-term stress on the body from carrying the water, falls are a major source of injury during water collection [5].

Woman in Mewat District, Haryana state, India transporting water back to village from water source.

The danger of water collection is not only from the physical challenge of carrying heavy buckets long distances. Women and girls are at risk for rape, kidnapping, assault, traffic accidents, animal attacks and other dangers. Unfortunately, these incidents often go unreported because of fear of retaliation, shame, or even punishment by family members [5]. These risks are the sad reality for far too many women and girls around the world. But living without water is not an option.


How Things Must Change


So, what can be done to address the issue of women and water collection? First and foremost, including women in all levels of community change is essential. Local women need a seat at the table when governmental or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) start new water programs. Funding and constructing new pumps, wells, and other infrastructure are several pieces of the puzzle, but women must be a part of the planning, design, and use of the facility or service. Access to woman-led water management allows women and girls to move past the responsibility of water collection and toward their own economic empowerment. These gender-sensitive approaches at the local level need to be bolstered by broader, national scale legislation [6]. Correspondingly, communication campaigns to motivate men to collect water and help change social norms are also a vital component to making positive collective progress.

Women in Mewat District collecting water from well shared by multiple communities..

WaterWoman Sustainability Education, Inc.

At WaterWoman Sustainability Education, we aim to engage, educate and empower future generations to end the global water crisis. Through water sustainability education, we can move closer to combating the impacts of water insecurity around the world. And, perhaps we can inspire more girls to want to get jobs and start careers in the water sector.


We want you to learn as much as you can about today’s topic: water collection and women. Check out a few of our favorite resources, including, WaterAid; Water.org’s section on Women and Water; and one of our all-time favorite articles, a bulletin from the World Health Organization titled, “Swimming upstream: why sanitation, hygiene and water are so important to mothers and their daughters.” Resources like these help us all understand the depth of unsafe water issues around the world.


To help us reach our goals, WWSE is running its first fundraiser, from now until April 22, 2021. The money for this fundraiser will go toward the production of WaterWoman’s first adventures. The Adventures of WaterWoman™ is an educational entertainment program aimed at improving awareness, understanding and engagement among young people about the global water crisis. You can learn more about The Adventures of WaterWoman™ here. If you would like to support our fundraiser, please click here for more details on how you can help!


Please stay tuned for our upcoming blog posts during the fundraiser, which will continue to focus on the connection between water poverty and women’s oppression around the world. If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing on social. Be sure to visit our website for future posts and more information at waterwomanse.org.


References


1. Water.org. Women and Water - A Woman’s Crisis. Water.org. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/womens-crisis/


2. Sorenson SB, Morssink C, Campos PA. Safe access to safe water in low income countries: water fetching in current times. Soc Sci Med. 2011;72(9):1522-1526. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.03.010


3. UNICEF. UNICEF: Collecting water is often a colossal waste of time for women and girls. Accessed March 25, 2021. https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/unicef-collecting-water-often-colossal-waste-time-women-and-girls


4. Geere J-A, Bartram J, Bates L, et al. Carrying water may be a major contributor to disability from musculoskeletal disorders in low income countries: a cross-sectional survey in South Africa, Ghana and Vietnam. J Glob Health. 2018;8(1):010406. doi:10.7189/jogh.08.010406


5. Geere DJ-A. Safe drinking water should mean safe collection too: how to reduce the risks. The Conversation. Accessed March 25, 2021. http://theconversation.com/safe-drinking-water-should-mean-safe-collection-too-how-to-reduce-the-risks-150880


6. UN-Water. Gender. UN-Water. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/gender/

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