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Time poverty

What if you couldn’t go to work or school because you had to collect water?
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Every year women and girls spend 40 billion hours collecting water – time that could be spent working, learning or even just socializing with other members of the community. This leads to time poverty, which has a very negative impact on household income, as well as national and global economies.

The issue explained

What would you do if you had to seek out the thing you need most to survive—water—every day, rather than just turning on the sink? How much time do you think it would take? Would you be able to work or go to school? How would you use the water you collected—for drinking, cooking, washing, or watering your garden? Would you just go back for more every time a new need arose? What would you do if, one day, the source of water you counted on just dried up?

For at least 650 million people, these are daily questions. In most households and communities, it’s women and girls who must answer them.

The numbers

Every year, women spend 40 billion hours collecting water—equivalent to all the hours worked in a year by the entire workforce in France.

They walk an average of six miles roundtrip, carrying an average of 40 pounds (that’s about the weight that most airlines allow you to check!).

In India alone, it is estimated that water collecting and carrying costs 150 million work days every single year.

In addition, it is estimated that women and girls spend 97 billion hours each year by looking for a place to urinate or defecate, because they don’t have a toilet.

To put these numbers in context:

  • That’s ten times more hours than all Americans spent sitting in traffic last year.
  • It’s twice the total time spent by all 81 million Netflix subscribers watching content last year.
  • It’s approximately ten times more than the total number of hours Americans spend responding to Federal paperwork, such as from the IRS.

Then there’s time spent taking care of others, especially those sick from WASH-related illnesses like diarrhea, intestinal worms or pneumonia . Taken together, women and girls suffer from time poverty—a lack of time to engage in productive labor, go to school or vocational training, or even socialize.

Our approach

This time poverty has a very negative impact on household income but also on national and global economies. We must work to change gender norms, so that men and boys help with chores. But providing access to water and toilets in or very near homes, in public spaces, health facilities and schools can make a huge dent in time poverty, providing millions of women and girls the opportunity to enter the productive labor force, finish school, and lift themselves and their families out of poverty of all kinds.