Women Deliver 2023: “The global fight for gender equality will be lost without the basics of clean water, toilets and hygiene”
‘Women Deliver’ - the world’s largest conference on gender equality - kicks off in Rwanda next week (17th – 20th July) - but with internationally agreed goals on access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene for all woefully behind schedule, widespread discrimination against women and girls will persist, warns WaterAid.
The conference, which aims to champion the rights of women and girls globally, comes barely a week after a new report from the World Health Organization and UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Program revealed that 3.5 billion people don’t have a safe toilet at home; 2.2 billion don’t have safe water and almost 2 billion don’t have soap and water to wash their hands at home.
For the 1.8 billion people worldwide, who still collect water away from their homes, the burden disproportionately affects women and girls who are more than twice as likely than men and boys to bear the responsibility of water collection. And, with over half a billion people sharing toilet facilities globally, the privacy, dignity and safety of women and girls is often put at risk.
Despite global governments persistently failing them, women and girls the world over are harnessing improved access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to drive positive change within their communities.
In the village of Kakounouso in the Samabogo region of Mali, 70-year-old Maimouna Dembele, presides over a women’s group that uses a new water supply system to grow a successful and climate resilient market garden that benefits the whole community.
“We produce onion, garlic, cucumbers, salad, tomatoes, potatoes, papaya and so forth. This work that we do is very beneficial to us. What we produce, we consume and we sell. We sell to have some money. It helps us pay for our children’s tuition, and we help our husbands and families.”
Meanwhile in Bangladesh, 24-year-old Khadija Akhter, works as a hygiene promoter in the Sattar Molla slum in Pallabi, Mirpur and has helped increase awareness about the importance of handwashing, as well as managing periods hygienically.
“I would use a handheld megaphone and walk through the streets playing a song about hygiene to make people aware of the importance of washing hands and maintaining hygiene. Things have improved a lot. Children are more concerned about washing hands regularly.
“As part of my job I speak to girls and women about menstrual hygiene management. Girls used to shy away from the conversation before. As I kept trying to break the stigma around such conversation and inform them how menstrual hygiene management is crucial to their well-being they started to understand the importance of it.”
In La Guajira region of north-eastern Colombia - where 96% of people lack a reliable access to drinking water - 52-year-old Isolina Silva is a community leader and teacher to 30 young children. For her, even limited water security is liberating:
“It is a great joy because we have the freedom to sow at any time of the year. We have the freedom to have our animals, they will not die of hunger or thirst. And if I compare it with other communities in the region, I see that they do not have same quantity and quality of water that we have in Pesuapá.”
Olutayo Bankole-Bolawole, WaterAid’s Regional Director for East Africa, said:
“Women Deliver is a fantastic opportunity for decision makers, international agencies, women’s rights organizations and many others to come together to advocate for - and drive progress towards - gender equality.
“However, governments globally are failing to prioritize and deliver clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, which are the fundamental building blocks to achieving gender equality. The new JMP data throws this reality in to stark relief; showing how seriously impacted women and girls are by the lack of water and sanitation at home and offering a sobering reminder that progress is moving too slowly.
“This will only get worse unless countries and donors massively increase their investment and support, particularly where progress is low and in areas most impacted by climate change. Put simply the global fight for gender equality will be lost without the basics of clean water, toilets and hygiene.”
Access to water, sanitation and hygiene are gender equality issues. WaterAid is calling on governments and donors globally to prioritize and increase funding towards gender transformative water, sanitation and hygiene provision in national policies, so that women and girls globally are no longer burdened with water collection, caring for sick family members when waterborne disease inevitably spread and taking time away from school and work to manage their periods. Only then will women and girls everywhere be given a greater chance to thrive.
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Notes to Editors:
WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organization works in 27 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalized people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 28 million people with clean water and 29 million people with decent toilets.