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The Water Bias: women and water scarcity

Posted Apr 07 2010 9:15am

“Let your husband die, but the earthen pot of water should not be broken.”

Credits: flickr cc - Find Your Feet

Credits: flickr cc - Find Your Feet

So goes an old Indian saying. That water could be more valuable in the life of a woman than her husband can be seen by the many dramatic impacts that this substance has on the livelihood, health, education and safety of women worldwide.

For example, women in developing countries walk up to 16 hours and 40 kilometres per week to find and haul the water that is required for cooking and washing for their families. This effort—sometimes the vessels for carrying water are up to 18 kg—can consume 25% of a woman’s daily caloric intake, as well as make a woman more vulnerable to health problems such as long term muscle pain, difficulties at birth due to pelvic and hip strain, and an increased chance of disease due to higher levels of exposure to unclean water sources.

Add to these troubles that women and girls make up 70% of the world’s poor, in large part due to the fact that they are the ones required to leave their schooling to provide for water, and that girls reaching puberty often have no access to safe, private sanitation facilities or clean water. 2 out of every 3 illiterate people worldwide are women. This gender-unequal task of finding and hauling water means that women will be excluded from education, income generation and cultural and political activities.

In this video interview , Maude Barlow, water expert and author of Blue Gold also cites an increase in wife-assaults in the developing countries as water scarcity reaches critical points.  In this video that we’ve put up on our Water Knowledge Portal , she says: “The vast majority of people living without water live in poor areas of the world—India, China, Latin America, Africa. And the vast majority of people there who are responsible and who bear the biggest brunt are women. Women are the ones who are responsible for finding the water, for cooking, for taking care of their families, for the health of their families. We’re even seeing a rise in wife-assault in communities where the man comes home after the day and the wife, who was responsible for finding water wasn’t able to find it, so there’s no dinner, there’s nothing to wash with and so she gets beaten.”

But there are solutions to this situation, and we have put together a Water Knowledge Portal outlining case studies and expert interviews, as well as numerous YouTube videos to show what groups around the globe are doing.

Women are key components in changing the water practices as well as the opportunities and innovative concepts in a society. At Water.org, which gives microloans to small initiatives worldwide, 90 percent of the almost 17,000 credit grantees are women. We have written a case study of water.org here .

More links to case studies and experts dealing with issues of women and water can be found on betterplace.org on the Water Knowledge Portal:

And we’ve put together a betterplace LAB channel of our favourite videos on this topic include:

  • Water for People: “Women and Water” “Access to safe water near the home can transform a women’s life and the life of her children by reducing the time and resources spent hauling water.”
  • Barefoot College Video At Barefoot College, over 100 illiterate mothers and grandmothers have been trained as solar engineers
  • Gram Vikas in India Mission: to promote a process which is sustainable, socially inclusive and gender equitable, to enable the rural poor to achieve a dignified quality of life
Credit: flickr cc - Markusfranklin

Credit: flickr cc - Markusfranklin

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