Updated: Apr 5, 2021
In the United States, it is common to walk the halls of a school and see water fountains, bathrooms with toilets, and sinks to wash hands. The vast majority of American students never have to think about access to these things. This invisible, but constant, access to water, sanitation and hygiene contributes to a lack of understanding and awareness about the dire connection between water and education around much of the globe.
Water Collection and School Attendance
In communities around the world, one in three schools lack access to basic water and sanitation , oftentimes combined with a lack of access to that water in homes, too. In those areas without water in the home, the burden of water collection often falls on children, especially girls, as we discussed (here) last week. Children around the world spend 200 million hours collecting water every day . This makes it harder for them to attend school and get the education they need to succeed. Instead, they spend their days walking long distances carrying heavy containers filled with dirty water.
The issue of water collection and the toll it takes on education is also tied to gender equality. The time spent collecting water affects girls disproportionately as girls are twice as likely as boys to be the water collectors in any given family . In this significant role, girls often sacrifice their education for this responsibility.
The gender imbalance in the educational sphere is also affected when girls reach puberty. In countries around the world, it is common for girls to drop out of school because of a lack of privacy or the need for separate female facilities during menstruation . For example, throughout Africa, one in ten girls miss school when they have their period . If they do not have safe and separate facilities to manage their menstrual hygiene, it becomes very difficult to stay in school. Once this continues for several days a month or more over a year, the quality of education girls receive drops or stops altogether .
What exactly makes it difficult for girls to go to school during menstruation? There are several physical and social factors that play a role. Many young women face physical pain with menstrual cramps that make it difficult to concentrate on learning . Additionally, many girls suffer from embarrassment and shame that comes from the social stigma surrounding menstruation. This is compounded when we consider the lack of access to safe, private facilities. And when girls lack private toilets, clean water to wash themselves, and a place to dispose of their menstrual products, many drop out of school altogether . The earlier a girl drops out of school, the more likely she is to face early marriage and childbearing. Thus, proper hygiene and sanitation in schools is a major piece of the puzzle for increasing female education around the world.
Poor sanitation and hygiene in schools also has a direct impact on children’s health, especially girls. Approximately 443 million school days are lost each year due to waterborne illness . When kids lack a toilet, a place to wash their hands or safe water, this leads to negative health effects such as severe outbreaks of diarrheal disease [3,4]. Water borne diarrheal diseases are deadly for children in the developing world  and these illnesses can affect learning and decrease school attendance.
Clean water is key to changing the outcomes for kids and their ability to get an education. Sanitation facilities and hygiene promotion in schools are vital. The longer a girl stays in school, the greater her potential contribution to her family, community and even, country. Girls who are able to complete more years of school will be healthier, marry at an older age, have fewer children, have healthier children, and ultimately be more likely and able to earn an income and participate in the formal labor market .
WaterWoman Sustainability Education, Inc.
At WaterWoman Sustainability Education, our goal is to engage, educate and empower future generations to end the global water crisis. Through water sustainability education, we hope to move the needle when it comes to combating the impacts of water insecurity around the world. And we hope to inspire more girls to get jobs and start careers in the water sector along the way.
We want you to learn as much as you can about today’s topic: water and education. Check out a few of our favorite resources, including WaterAid, Water.org’s section on A Children’s and Education Crisis and Lifewater. 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.
Children’s education & the water crisis. Water.org website. https://water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/childrens-and-education-crisis/. Accessed March 29, 2021.
Swimming upstream: why sanitation, hygiene and water are so important to mothers and their daughters. WHO website. https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/88/7/10-080077/en/. Accessed March 29, 2021.
Water and education: how safe water access helps schoolchildren. Lifewater International website. https://lifewater.org/blog/water-education/. Published October 17, 2014. Accessed March 29, 2021.
We can’t wait: A report on sanitation and hygiene for women and girls. WaterAid website. https://washmatters.wateraid.org/publications/we-cant-wait-a-report-on-sanitation-and-hygiene-for-women-and-girls. Accessed March 29, 2021.
Understanding poverty topics: Girls’ education. The World Bank website. https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/girlseducation#1. Accessed April 1, 2021.