Women and WaterAid
In Africa and Asia women are generally responsible for collecting water for their families. In rural Africa women often have to walk five miles or more to the nearest water source.
Women often have to wait in turn to collect water, forcing many to leave home in the middle of the night to reach the source when there is no line. Then, when they have collected enough water for their family, they will start the long journey back home carrying their heavy water containers.
Women at a traditional water source in Uganda.
Credit: WaterAid / Geoff Crawford
The water they collect is
often dirty, polluted and unsafe to drink. It could come from a river or pond or simply just a hole in the ground where animals drink too.
In urban areas, where communities live in slum or squatter settlements
without safe water, women either have to walk long distances to collect water, use polluted sources such as factory outlets or buy expensive water from vendors.
Without somewhere safe and clean to go to the toilet women have more daily problems. When people go to the toilet in the open, human waste is left around which can spread diseases and pollute water sources. In many cultures women have to wait until it is dark to relieve themselves causing discomfort, loss of dignity and sometimes illness.
Carrying heavy water containers is an exhausting task for women.
Credit: WaterAid / Suzanne Porter
Walking to remote water sources and places to go to the toilet, often at night, further exposes women to the risk of both sexual harassment and animal attacks.
Constantly carrying heavy water containers, that weigh up to 20kg, on the head, hip or back, has severe health implications. In extreme cases curved spines and pelvic deformities can result, causing problems in childbirth.
Collecting water takes up valuable time and energy, leaving women unable to do household or income-generating work.
Illness adds to women’s workloads as they are also responsible for looking after sick children.
Women and WaterAid
WaterAid works with communities to help provide clean, safe water supplies, effective sanitation and hygiene education.
These basic services help people escape the spiral of poverty and achieve a better quality of life. WaterAid believes that it is
vital for women to be actively involved in all stages of these
projects, including the planning, construction and decision-making stages.
However, the societies that WaterAid works in are generally male-dominated and so extra care and attention has to be taken to ensure women are equally included in the projects. As the main users of the future water points women are best placed to choose the ideal location.
Women have a great deal of knowledge on the local water sources that is crucial in the planning stages, for example where the nearest, cleanest sources are and when
they dry out.
Women must also be consulted on their choice and location of latrines, as often it is women who are most affected by privacy issues. Community members, including women, will also form water committees to manage their water and sanitation facilities.
Female handpump mechanics in India.
Credit: WaterAid / Marco Betti
They are responsible for the project maintenance and the collecting and banking of funds. It is often women who are trusted with the position of treasurer or attendant for sanitation blocks, tapstands or wells.
Women also often become hygiene educators as they are able to talk to other women freely. They receive basic training in sanitation and hygiene and then spread these messages throughout their community.
Involving women in projects also has a positive impact on women’s positions in the community. By having such an important role as hygiene educator, water committee member or sanitation block attendant the women’s status is enhanced.
For women everywhere providing clean, accessible water and sanitation facilities not only prevents needless drudgery and indignity but improves their health and that of the whole family. Women’s time is freed up for agriculture or other income-generating work, looking after children or simply relaxing. It also enables their children, including girls, to go to school. In time
women gain more skills and become stronger, with more
prominent roles in society.
Download Water is a women's issue info sheet
Back to top
Nakwetikya from Ndedo, Tanzania, used to have to collect the scarce water available, polluted with animal and human waste, from the bottom of deep and dangerous hand-dug pits. Sickness and deaths were common. But life changed with the WaterAid project.
"The situation here used to be bleak," she explains. "There was no water and we had to dig pits to find some. Can you imagine what it was like? My legs used to shake with fear before climbing down those holes. There was no choice. If I didn't get water my family couldn't eat, wash or even have a drink.
"When I heard that we were going to get clean water I remember laughing, it was so funny. I can only compare it to someone who is in prison for a long time. When they are set free it's the most fantastic experience.
"Since having the new water source life has changed in so many amazing ways. My status as a woman has been finally recognized. I have the time to look after my family as we have more time and energy.
"Before we formed a committee and prepared ourselves as a community, men just saw women as animals. I think they thought of us as bats flapping around them. They had no respect for us and no-one would allow you to speak or listen to what you had to say. When I stand up now in a group I am not an animal. I am a woman with a valid opinion. We have been encouraged and trained and the whole community has learned to understand us."
Photo: WaterAid / Alex Macro