A lack of clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene holds entire communities back – but women and girls are disproportionately affected.

Typically responsible for domestic chores, it's usually women and girls who are expected to collect water from unsafe sources like rivers, streams and holes in the ground. The journey is often dangerous, and the sheer weight of full containers can leave life-long injuries.

The time spent fetching water – often hours, every single day – is time that could be better spent in school, earning a living, or with family.

Watch: What has water got to do with gender equality?

The unequal burden of climate change

The climate crisis is a water crisis – and women and girls are already feeling the impacts.

As more frequent droughts cause rivers and springs to dry up, the journey to fetch water is only getting longer, hotter, and more dangerous.

Water sources polluted by floods cause diseases to spread, and when family members fall ill from drinking dirty water, it’s women and girls who are expected to stay home and take care of them – meaning even fewer opportunities to go to school, earn a living, and improve life for themselves and their families.

The importance of decent toilets and good hygiene

One in five people around the world doesn’t have a decent toilet of their own – leaving many with no choice but to go in the open.

Women and girls are particularly at risk of harassment and physical and sexual violence. To avoid having to go in open fields with no privacy, some women wait until nightfall – putting them in even greater danger, and negatively impacting their health.

As climate change gets worse, extreme weather events like floods are becoming more common and severe, damaging pipes and washing away toilets, and it’s women and girls whose health, safety and dignity are suffering the most.

Periods

A lack of decent toilets and washing facilities makes managing periods much more challenging. When there’s no toilet at school, work or in public places, many women and girls stay home every month – missing out on opportunities to build a better future for themselves.

WaterAid/ Sailendra Kharel
When girls menstruate at school, it affects their studies as they return home [with] a stomach ache. It’s not good to leave the class, but they are compelled to do so since there are no pads, toilets and not even drinking water in our school."
Puja, 12, pictured above, studying at home in Lahan, Nepal, April 2021. Her school lacks sanitary pads, clean water and decent toilets.

Women and girls are key to the solution

When women and girls are included in decision-making and problem-solving, everyone gains.

Too often, women and girls are left out of conversations, because of traditional gender roles and power structures. When services are designed, funded and delivered exclusively by men, they fail to address the unique challenges faced by women and girls, and ignore their valuable perspectives and first-hand experiences of the issues. As a result, solutions don’t always meet communities’ needs.

But every day – at home, in their community, as part of local water management committees – women and girls are coming up with practical solutions to the water crisis, and leading the response to climate change.

They’re fixing taps and pumps. They’re organising change. And they’re taking on even more responsibilities, volunteering to monitor water levels and coming up with plans to make supplies last.

Taking action to make supplies last

People in Bonam, Burkina Faso, are used to living through a long, dry season. But now, the rains don’t come when they should, and water is scarce. Farmer and mother-of-four Justine checks the rain gauge every morning, helping to build a picture of the village reserves.

WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

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