Improving access to water linked to boosting gender equality, research finds

Posted 2 August 2017

Women and girls spend hours every day travelling to water sourcesGender equality in water-related work in developing regions has been highlighted in recent years, but one researcher argues that efforts to help are failing to address specific gender needs. 

Emory University Department of Environmental Health Fellow Bethany Caruso said that programs to alleviate water burdens must acknowledge gender equality issues if they are to be successful. 

“An insufficient supply of safe and accessible water poses extra risks and challenges for women and girls,” Caruso said.  

“Without recognising the uneven burden of water work that women bear, well-intentioned programs to bring water to places in need will continue to fail to meet their goals.”

A new UNICEF/WHO report found that 263 million people worldwide have access to safe water sources, but need to spend at least 30 minutes walking to collect their water; and 159 million collect water from surface sources that are considered unsafe, such as rivers and streams, and are likely to spend more than 30 minutes to collect it. 

“Millions of women and girls spend hours every day traveling to water sources, waiting in line and carrying heavy loads – often several times a day,” Caruso said. 

Aside from the time spent collecting water, which removes young women and girls from classrooms, Caruso also said her research found women are more likely to encounter physical and sexual assault when collecting water. 

Furthermore, illness related to use of unsafe water sources is a family burden carried by women, who are required to nurse sick individuals. 

“When communities initiate programs to improve access to water, it is critical to ask women about their needs and experiences,” Caruso said.  

“Although women and girls play key roles in obtaining and managing water globally, they are rarely offered roles in water improvement programs or on local water committees.

“They need to be included as a right and as a practical matter. Numerous water projects in developing countries have failed because they did not include women.”

The Australian Water Association, in collaboration with the Australian Water Partnership, has launched a new program focused on increasing equality and diversity in the water sector across the Asia Pacific region and Australia. To learn more, click here