WaterAid and award-winning photographer Poulomi Basu launch evocative photo series highlighting the impact a lack of water has on women and girls

Posted by
Anna France Williams
25 January 2022
WaterAid/ Poulomi Basu

WaterAid and award-winning Indian transmedia artist and activist Poulomi Basu have launched a dynamic new dystopian photo series, Sisters of the Moon, to show how a lack of clean water and toilets limits the power and potential of women and girls.

The ecofeminist work, commissioned by international charity WaterAid, explores women’s energy and strength and the importance of water and sanitation in helping them fulfil their potential as a force for change. Sisters of the Moon is inspired by the women and girls Poulomi has met through more than a decade of her previous work, including collaborative assignments with WaterAid, as well as her own experience of being raised in a patriarchal home in Kolkata where both her mother and grandmother were child brides. 

The series explores issues that affect women and girls all over the world such as gender-related violence, menstrual taboos, and climate change, so rather than focus on a specific country, Poulomi chose to create a fictional dystopian world in the beautiful and barren landscape of Iceland. She placed herself in the photographs as a way of connecting her own struggles with those of women and girls from across the global south, using her body as a canvas to confront the politics of race, representation and environmental justice. 

Sisters of the Moon is being released to support WaterAid’s Thirst for Knowledge appeal, which will bring clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to homes and schools around the world, helping ensure girls have an equal chance to learn in dignity and safety. The UK Government will match public donations made by 15 February 2022 up to £2 million, helping bring these vital facilities to an additional 28,000 people and 30 schools in the Bardiya district of Nepal. 

The 14 striking images include a bed submerged in water, inspired by women Poulomi met in Bangladesh who are living on the frontline of climate change and whose homes were lost and many flooded as a result of rising sea levels. Floating by the bed are water containers, highlighting how the climate crisis is a water crisis, with flooding contaminating water supplies and droughts drying them up.  

One picture features a woman in a red veil walking towards a burning hut. The fiery image alludes to defiance against the practice of ‘chaupadi’ in parts of Nepal, where women are forced to isolate during their period when they are considered unclean. 

In another photo, women are carrying water pots over a snowy, rocky terrain, reflecting the challenging journeys millions of girls make every day to collect water. One in ten people have no water close to home, and women and girls are responsible for collecting water in four out of five households with water off the premises, often making long journeys across remote and difficult terrain, putting their safety at risk and leaving little time to go to school or earn a living.  

A fourth image shows a girl covered in blood with schoolbooks scattered around her, raising awareness of the one in three schools worldwide that do not have decent toilets or a basic water supply. This lack of basic facilities affects girls disproportionately as many often miss classes while on their period if there are no decent toilets or even drop out of school altogether when they reach puberty, impacting their lives and futures. 

Poulomi Basu, who was shortlisted for the prestigious Deutsche Börse Prize in 2021 and has won multiple awards for her photobook, Centralia, said: 

“Sisters of the Moon explores our global water crisis and the challenges of environmental and ecological change, and how these intersect with gender equality. I have drawn on my past experiences working in the field and my own family life growing up in India to present an ecofeminist tale in which the women look powerful, but their real power has been curtailed and controlled.  

“Girls shouldn’t have to spend hours each day collecting water for their families; they should be in school studying. Menstruation should not hold them back because they do not have decent toilet facilities or proper sanitary kits. If you deny women access to water and toilets, you take away their power. Having clean water close to home and at school doesn’t just mean women and girls can spend more time in education, it means they can take charge of their lives and their livelihoods. I believe women have an amazing ability to change the world, and it’s important their basic human rights are met so they can have a voice and reach their full potential.” 

Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive, WaterAid, said:  

“Poulomi Basu’s thought-provoking photo series captures how fundamental clean water and decent sanitation are in tackling gender inequality and helping people overcome poverty. If these basic human rights are met, girls can stay in school, women have the time to earn a living, and whole communities can be healthier while also building resilience against the effects of climate change.  

“By supporting WaterAid’s Thirst for Knowledge appeal, the public can help get clean water, toilets and good hygiene to communities around the world, transforming lives for generations to come. With the UK Government matching donations up to £2 million, people’s support will make double the difference this winter.” 

For Sisters of the Moon Poulomi worked with Edda Guðmundsdóttir who styles Icelandic singer Björk and makeup was by Sunna Björk. The clothes she wears in the photographs were donated by designers Iris van Herpen, Jivomir Domoustchiev, Aziz Rebar and Richard Malone.  

To read more visit: www.wateraid.org/uk/sistersofthemoon 


For more information, please contact: 

Anna France-Williams, Senior Media Officer [email protected], 0207 793 5048 

or Carla Prater, Senior Media Officer, [email protected] 0207 793 4468.  

Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552, or email [email protected]

Notes to Editors: 

Poulomi Basu   

Poulomi Basu is an Indian transmedia artist, photographer and activist whose work advocating for the rights of women has received wide attention.  Born and raised in India, Poulomi spent her formative years in Kolkata, taking early inspiration from the city’s cinematic history.  Her work explores how the formation of identity intersects with geopolitics to reveal the deep, often hidden power structures in our societies.   

In 2020 she was awarded the prestigious Hood Medal by the Royal Photographic Society for her transmedia work, Blood Speaks, which put menstrual rights on the international agenda and resulted in a major policy change.  She has exhibited internationally and is a National Geographic Society Explorer, Sundance Fellow and Magnum Foundation Fellow.  She directs Just Another Photo Festival, a travelling guerrilla visual media festival that democratises photography by offering it to ordinary people and building new audiences.  Her first book, Centralia (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2020), was the winner of the Discovery Award 2020 at Les Rencontres D’Arles and a nominee for the 2021 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize.  Her work is publicly collected by the Victoria and Albert Museum London, Autograph, Rencontres D’Arles, MoMa (Special Collections). 

Poulomi has worked with WaterAid since 2014 on projects exploring the impact a lack of clean water and toilets has on girls. She has covered issues such as violence against women, period taboos and sanitation work. Poulomi collaborated with the charity on its To Be A Girl campaign which raised £2 million to build toilets and provide 130,000 girls with re-useable sanitary kits. In 2020, she was one of 10 visual artists commissioned by WaterAid to create work celebrating the 10th anniversary of water and sanitation being declared a human right by the UN. 

UK Aid Match 

The UK Government will match donations made to WaterAid’s Thirst for Knowledge appeal between 16 November 2021 and 15 February 2022, up to £2million.  With the match funding, WaterAid will work with local partners in Bardiya district in Nepal to construct new, sustainable school water systems, decent toilets, and drinking water stations with handwashing facilities in 30 schools, enabling children to easily wash, drink and go to the toilet without missing lessons. Provision will be made for girls to manage their periods safely and hygienically, so they no longer worry about missing out on their education or fetching water. 

WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people.  Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 28 million people with clean water and nearly 29 million people with decent toilets. 

For more information, visit our website wateraid.org/uk, follow us on Twitter @WaterAidUK@WaterAid or @WaterAidPress, or find us on FacebookLinkedIn or Instagram.

  • 771 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 1.7 billion people in the world – more than one in five – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 290,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's more than 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]
  1. WHO/UNICEF (2021) Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020. Joint Monitoring Programme. Geneva: World Health Organisation. 

  2. WHO/UNICEF (2021) Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020. Joint Monitoring Programme. Geneva: World Health Organisation. 

  3. WaterAid calculations based on: Prüss-Ustün A, et al. (2019). Burden of Disease from Inadequate Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Selected Adverse Health Outcomes: An Updated Analysis with a Focus on Low- and Middle-Income Countries. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. vol 222, no 5, pp 765-777. AND The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2020) Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. Seattle, WA: University of Washington. 

  4. World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage 

  5. www.wateraid.org