The issue explained
Imagine a life without safe water flowing from your tap.
Imagine then, if every morning you had to get up at dawn and walk for miles down uneven trails to the nearest water hole to collect your family's water – water that could pass on deadly diseases to you or your children.
Imagine that you spend six hours every day collecting enough water for your family.
Now imagine that you have nowhere safe and private to go to the toilet. You may have to wait until it's dark before you can finally go. But this exposes you to the risk of sexual harassment, assault and animal attacks, never mind the discomfort and loss of dignity.
This is the daily reality of life for many women in developing countries.
Worldwide, women and girls are more likely to live in poverty and experience its negative impacts than men. This is equally true of lack of access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), which is both a cause and consequence of poverty and gender-based discrimination.
Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by lack of WASH. These impacts can include fear or experiences of violence, poor health, loss of dignity and self-esteem, lack of education, and loss of livelihoods or inability to earn an income.
Women are key to successful WASH projects, advocacy and campaigning. Experience shows that women place a high priority on water supply and work very hard to design, implement and manage projects, because they understand what a difference having these facilities will make. We ensure that women are consulted about their preferences for project design, especially where taps and toilets should be sited, and what features they need to have in order to best meet the needs of their communities.
Women's knowledge about water sources is particularly valuable. For example, because they usually collect the water, women will know where the best water sources are and in which month they usually dry up. But because of gender norms that place a particularly strong emphasis on privacy and modesty for women and girls, involving them in designing and placing toilets is equally critical. Details like where lights are placed, how a door closes and locks, and how near a toilet is to another structure if it isn’t inside a home can be the difference between a feeling of safety and dignity, and fear of violence or shame.
Involving women in advocacy is important, too. Whether working with district governments in one of the countries where we implement projects, or speaking before the United Nations, women’s voices carry weight and can help policy-makers better understand what makes a tap, toilet, or hygiene campaign work for the people they most need to reach.
We believe in involving women in projects not only because it helps make the work sustainable but also, and perhaps more importantly, because it has a positive impact on women's positions in the community.
By having such an important and public role as a health promoter or water committee member, a woman's skills and reputation within the community are enhanced. In some communities, women have reported that their participation in a WASH User Committee was the first time they have ever voted. Ultimately, participation in WASH projects can help women gain confidence and become stronger and more respected.