Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Women and Water

What does a simple toilet facility, clean water and hygiene have to do with the happiness and wellbeing of women and girls worldwide?

Everything, simply.

Access to water, sanitation and hygiene translates into gender equality: A very different kind of life for an estimated 384 million women and girls who live without safe water, and for the 1.25 billion (that’s right, billion!) who do not have access to a toilet.

Take a moment to think what this actually means. How this would translate in your life. 

Try to step into the life of another.

If you did not have clean drinking water, what would you drink? Where would you go to fetch water? Who would be responsible for porting the water for you and your family? What impact would this have?

If you did not have access to a toilet, where would you go? When? How? What risk would this pose? How about your health?

It’s almost impossible to picture this life if since the day you were born, you have been privileged to these basic and entitled rights.

Your imagination can only take you so far. 

Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith 

This is Solo, aged 13 years-old from Madagascar. At least twice a day, she has to carry 20 litres of dirty water up a steep, narrow path, putting her health and her future at risk. 

Photo by Mani Karmacharya 

This is Chameli, 15 years-old from Nepal. She likes to read and wants to improve her English, but at least three times a day, she has to collect water for her family – which makes her late for school and hampers her progress.

To help paint the picture, I spoke with Hratche  KoundarjinWater Aid’s UK News Manager, who is working with his team to make it known to the masses - to you and I - that water and toilets are essential to changing the lives of women and girls in disadvantaged communities, particularly across Africa and Asia. 

"Traditionally - and still to this day - fetching water is considered one of women and girls’ many domestic duties," said Hratche.

He explained that a considerable amount of their day is spent travelling long distances to collect water from unsafe sources where they fill a jerrycan full and carry the heavy container on their back to their family in the village. The journey is often through dark and unsafe areas. Threatened with violence and sexual abuse on their course, women and girls are not safe.

The considerable time spent each day fetching water means opportunities for education, access to social and economic power (in the way of community representation and inclusion in leadership and decision-making spheres, and the ability to participate in income-generating activities), as well as time for play and leisure are severely infringed upon.

Without access to simple yet clean toilet amenities, some 526 million women are forced to defecate in the open because of the lack of facilities.

For this reason, women and girls spend an estimated 97 billion hours each year trying to find a safe place to go.

"A private toilet and washroom can mean an adolescent girl stays in school and receives an education so she can reach her full potential," Hratche shared.

With no where to go - especially when it is that time of the month - has meant appalling drop out rates because of the associated shame and embarrassment. The average primary school completion rates for boys in sub-Saharan Africa stand at 56%, while only 46% of  girls finish school.

Women and girls’ right to a healthy, secure and dignified life is breached - even obliterated in some circumstances - because of the lack of change.

Most saddening is the attitude of acceptance that circumnavigates this issue.

But acceptance will no longer be tolerated.

It just can't.

Water Aid is an international non-governmental organisation working to transform lives among the world’s  poorest communities by improving access to safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation. Their campaign Change the Record calls out for a change to this old, broken story. 

The record is scratched and it’s been on repeat for far too long.

Sabrina McIntyre from London. Photo by Ben Roberts
Liz and Peter Cabban from North Wales. Photo by Ben Roberts 

The United Nation’s Millenium Development Goals  (MDGs) -  the eight goals agreed to by the world’s countries and leading development institutions to halve poverty by 2015 – will soon come to an end. 

Water Aid is at the forefront lobbying  for a new global development framework which  prioritises water and sanitation.

Hratche said: “We are making progress but there is a still a long way to go. In the draft list, we, along with other members of the Open Working Group including UNICEF and WHO, have been successful in pushing for a stand alone goal on water and sanitation and are pushing for these rights to be  considered as targets under other goals.”

This September, world leaders will meet in New York to discuss the new set of international development priorities for the next 15 years. The MDGs failed to prioritise water and sanitation. Water Aid is determined for this not to be the case again.

“We want to ensure that everyone, everywhere, has access to taps and toilets by 2030,” he added.

The Change the Record petition now has 38,125 signatures. Make your voice heard and help make water and sanitation an urgent priority by adding your signature here.

Watch this powerful video and hear the personal stories of girls heregathered by Water Aid.

"We know that clean water and decent toilets transform whole communities."

"Transformation is what we need," Hratche concluded. 

Headway on the Change the Record campaign has meant this:

"Now we have clean water nearby, I have more time to study," said Lisa, 11 years-old from Madagascar.

Photo by Abbie Trayler-Smith 

"I don't need to go to the toilet in the bush again," said Patience, 13 years-old from Ghana.

Photo by Nyani Quarmyne 

This is a topic that sits close to my heart. An issue that can be solved if we ALL recognise its significance and call for change. If we probe our leaders, educate our communities, demand justice, and use our voice to platform the voices of those who are not heard. Who are silenced, involuntarily. 

Hratche ended with this powerful statement: "Transformation is what we need." Transformation. Progress. Change. Shifts. Moving Forward. Momentum. All words which paint a world full of possibility. A place where gender is equal.

Let's latch onto this energy and drive forward the vision.

Question: Tell me, what does gender quality mean to you, and how can you create opportunities for it?

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