The Water Crisis and Economic Opportunity for Women


School girl in the Mewat District, Haryana, India.

The heavy responsibility of water collection most often falls on women and young girls, as discussed here in our previous post. The extensive number of hours spent collecting water has many negative implications for women that extend beyond their health, including limited economic opportunities. This hindrance of economic security for women manifests in different ways, but ultimately connects back to the underlying issue—the Global Water Crisis.


Education


The burden of collecting water that falls on young girls and women restricts their ability to participate in many things, one of those being education, as we discussed here last week. This loss of time at school affects girls not only in the present and near future, but also affects their long-term abilities to progress financially. Having to focus all of their time and energy collecting water reduces their chance of pursuing any form of higher education, which in turn creates barriers to many employment opportunities [1]. For every year a girl stays in school, her future lifetime earning potential increases by as much as 25 percent [2]. Less educated women may also feel trapped in unsafe domestic situations as they may not be able to provide for themselves and their children if they try to leave. These limitations result in limited economic progress. Not only do many women feel this burden themselves, but also there are significant implications to global economic prosperity.


Income Earning Potential


Water collection responsibilities also impact women outside of the school system. Educational opportunities are restricted as well as opportunities for participation in income-earning activities—which would improve their social mobility and chances to engage in work that can help support their families [3]. Entering into the labor market becomes extremely difficult if women have to dedicate time to water-related responsibilities, and if they also have not completed the necessary schooling or training. Spending so much time collecting, providing, and managing water for their own households means that the income-earning potential is significantly reduced, thus decreasing positive economic opportunities and progress [4].

Women collecting well water in the Mewat District, Haryana, India.

Some women are in positions where they do earn some kind of salary. Unfortunately, a significant portion of that salary must often be used to buy safe water from vendors, if access to safe water is not available [1]. This situation can be seen at an alarming rate for many people facing poverty, as people in poverty pay up to 15 times as much of their income to buy water than their wealthier neighbors, since they are not connected to piped water infrastructure [1]. This repeated cycle limits their economic progress.


These issues are not only limited to individual economic progress for women. It also extends to progress on a larger economic scale. Women and girls around the world spend 200 million hours collecting water every day, which is extensive time not spent carrying out income-generating activities and contributing to the formal economy [5]. And, when we look at these trends on national levels, we can see even broader implications. The Council on Foreign Relations points out that experts estimate that lack of access to clean water causes annual economic losses of up to 7 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in some countries. One example of this is in India, where it is estimated that the time spent every year by women collecting and carrying water is equivalent to a national loss of income of 10 billion rupees, or $160 million USD [5]. On a global scale, it is estimated that $260 billion is lost every year due to a lack of basic water and sanitation [6]. This is extremely important, as it demonstrates directly the dire financial results of the water crisis.


Significance


Overall, women have many responsibilities when it concerns water in their communities and for their families. As a result, water issues may hinder economic progress and opportunities for women in several capacities. If safe water is accessible at home, women have a much greater chance of engaging in income-generating activities that can help break them away from the existing cycle of oppression. With safe and accessible water, millions of hours saved could turn into new opportunities for women's economic productivity.

Women washing clothes in the Mewat District, Haryana, India.

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 economic progress. Check out a few of our favorite resources, including Water.org’s sections on the economy and a women’s crisis; and the Council on Foreign Relations. 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. Hedge S. Barriers and bias: Women in water utilities are breaking them all. wH2O: The Journal of Gender and Water website. https://repository.upenn.edu/wh2ojournal/vol7/iss1/2. Accessed April 6, 2021.

  2. The water crisis is a women’s crisis. Water.org website. https://water.org/about-us/news-press/water-crisis-womens-crisis/. Accessed April 6, 2021.

  3. Gender and water collection responsibilities – A snapshot of Latin America. The World Bank website. https://blogs.worldbank.org/water/gender-and-water-collection-responsibilities-snapshot-latin-america. Accessed April 6, 2021.

  4. World Water Day 2019: Water crisis’ disproportionate toll on women can no longer be ignored. Institute of Developmental Studies website. https://www.ids.ac.uk/opinions/world-water-day-2019-water-crisis-disproportionate-toll-on-women-can-no-longer-be-ignored/. Published March 22, 2019. Accessed April 6, 2021.

  5. Water access is a gender equality issue. Council on Foreign Relations website. https://www.cfr.org/blog/water-access-gender-equality-issue. Accessed April 6, 2021.

  6. Water & the economy. Water.org website. https://water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/economic-crisis/. Accessed April 6, 2021.


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