Women & Girls

Gender-specific preferences in sanitation

“Studies of water and sanitation interventions show that women have a strong concern with privacy. In countries like India where sanitation is not widely available to poor people, open defecation by roadsides or on waste ground seems to provide less of a problem for men than for women. Women report waiting until after dark, with detrimental effects on their comfort and well-being. A study in Cambodia, Indonesia and Viet Nam showed women putting a greater value on household toilets than men, and specifying more benefits of improved sanitation ranging from convenience and privacy to a clean home environment.”

Source: N. Mukherjee, “Achieving sustained sanitation for the poor: policy lessons from participatory assessments in Cambodia, Indonesia and Viet Nam”, Jakarta, Indonesia, Water and Sanitation Programme for East Asia and the Pacific, 2001
(http://www.wsp. org/pdfs/eap_achieving.pdf in http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/Feb05.pdf)

As ever, the greatest burden of the water crisis falls most heavily on women and girls – they are denied their right to an education because they are the ones who traditionally fetch water, or drop out of school in adolescence because of poor sanitation facilities – this particularly affects girls during menstruation. This reinforces the gender inequalities in employment and education. Women continue to waste hours each day searching for water and they inevitably are the ones who look after the children who are ill or dying from diarrhoeal diseases. Women in Mozambique, rural Senegal and eastern Uganda spend an average of 15-17 hours of their week collecting water. During the dry season, women may need to walk more than 10kms in search of water each day. One estimate alluded to in the UNDP report estimates that in eastern Uganda women spend some 660 hours each year collecting water.

In South Africa, the General Household Survey 2006 reports figures on the average and total time spent by (poor, rural) households collecting water from natural sources (streams, rivers, dams of raw, untreated water). The total for South Africa for 2006 amounted to 148 million person days (based on an 8 hour working day) which is a 16% increase over the figures for 2005.? At the minimum wage rate of R40/day (around €3.60) this translates into an opportunity cost of labour of nearly R6Billion – the monetary value of the labour lost in collecting water which could otherwise have been used for more productive activities. An overall estimate for sub-Saharan Africa suggests that women spend some 40 billion hours a year collecting water.

“Most women and girl children in Rajasthan find themselves searching water for much of the year. They trudge bare foot in the hot sun for hours over wastelands, across thorny fields, or rough terrain in search of water, often the colour of mud and brackish, but still welcome for the parched throats back home. On an average, a rural woman walks more than 14000 km a year just to fetch water. Their urban sisters are only slightly better off- they do not walk such distances, but stand in the long winding queues for hours on end to collect water from the roadside taps on the water lorries.”

Source: www.navdanya.org

After having spent hours walking in search of water, women spend hours waiting for water at the source – which can add an additional 5 hours onto the day. Often, the water source is a dugout with polluted, dirty water. During the dry season, the dugout is made deeper and becomes more hazardous for women and girls climbing in to fetch the water and out to carry their water. They then have to carry back their heavy loads. This has long-term implications on their health. Many women conduct this ritual with young children strapped to their backs or heavily pregnant. Water collection consumes the majority of a woman’s day and leaves very little time for other chores or work, and no opportunity for social activities, relaxation or even to spent the time with her children. Increasingly, the search for water has become a life threatening exercise particularly in conflict zones, where women and girls are at risk of rape or their lives… or both.

“… The rape and violence continues around the camps as women and children go out to collect water and firewood. Even though they are vulnerable to attack, they have to perform these tasks to survive. “They’re in a situation where they need to get the firewood, they need to go out of the camp, they need to walk – many of them six or eight hours a day – in order to collect the firewood. And yet they know that journey is a treacherous one and that they face the very real and terrifying prospect of sexual violence,” says Ms. Shifman… “

Source: www.unicef.org