May 24, 2013 | 07:08 AM (BD Time)
24 May, 2013 Friday
Access of women to sanitation
Each year March 22 is observed internationally as the World Water Day, which is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. Since then, this day is celebrated each year with different themes related to water. March is also the month dedicated to women. International Women's Day is celebrated worldwide on March 8 to signify the importance of women and their rights. This paper is intended to present the association between water and women. The following paragraphs provide an overview of how access to safe water and proper sanitation affects the daily life of women.
Rural and poor urban women face various challenges globally in accessing water and sanitation. In general, rural women are expected to bring water for household purposes. In doing so, women risk their health and eventually their lives. A WaterAid report presents evidence that hauling heavy loads over long distances can lead to physical damage to the back and neck. In addition, Gender-based violence (GBV) has become common in water collection. Referring to a conversation between a women from the Youth Development Group in Tanzania and Rachel Ordu Dan Harry-Associate for Environmental Justice in Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, it was found that women sometimes get beaten up by their husbands for getting late in collecting water from distance. Young girls collecting water get beaten or raped by other boys and thus suffer from pregnancy or HIV/AIDS.
Furthermore, women in slums also live under the constant threat of sexual violence when they go out to use communal toilet and bathroom facilities. "The failure to incorporate the slums in urban plans and budgets has resulted in poor access to services like sanitation with the result that "women in Nairobi's settlements become prisoners in their own homes at night," said Godfrey Odongo, Amnesty's East Africa researcher. Another short report by End Water Poverty points out that sanitation is the most off track of all the millennium development goals and that in sub-Saharan Africa "the target will not be met for another 200 years unless drastic action is taken." It says that currently "half the hospital beds in Africa are occupied by patients with water-related diseases."
Collecting water from distances also keeps girls out of school and limits the economic productivity of women. According to a WaterAid report, globally, more than 1 in 5 girls of primary school age are not in school. Girls, like their mothers, must often walk miles to fetch the daily water supply, due to lack of clean water available at community level. Girls who have reached menstrual age may also be deterred from school by inadequate sanitation in public places. WaterAid Bangladesh found that a school sanitation project with separate facilities for boys and girls helped boost girls' school attendance 11 percent per year, on average from 1992 to 1999. Time savings also affect a woman's livelihood. The World Health Organization estimates that 40 billion working hours are spent carrying water each year in Africa. If the average one hour per day saved by each household member can be used to generate some income, the saved time is worth US$63 billion. Research carried out by WaterAid Nigeria found that because women are involved in the informal sector and domestic activities, they do not have time to participate in decision making processes. This scenario exists not only in Nigeria but worldwide. Although women are responsible for water supply, they are often overlooked in the planning and implementation of infrastructure development and water projects. Ensuring women's access to information about project plans and resource allocations is also essential.
Lack of voice and power of women in political society also results in wrongly prioritizing the water and sanitation improvement action. There is a need to not only include the women in national and government level activities in improving the water and sanitation sector, but also to create an enabling environment so that women can speak openly about the problems and their resolutions. In South Africa, for instance, the water and sanitation policy sets quotas for participation of women in water management issues. However, a study funded by the Water Research Commission revealed that the 30% quota for women's participation in water policy making did not guarantee meaningful participation because women were reluctant to voice their opinions in mixed groups due to cultural constraints and lack of information on the range of policy options.
Therefore evidences show that access to water and sanitation has a huge impact on the lives of women worldwide. The following measures, among others, can be undertaken to alleviate the negative consequences that women face due to lack of access to water and sanitation:
Placing source of water at community levels, thus reducing the distance to fetch water and saving time for girls and women.
o Saving time will allow young girls to attend school and get proper education. When they grow up, the ones that are interested in studying water management can do so and be eligible to participate in the water management issues for her respective community or nation as a whole.
o Saving time will also allow women to be involved in income-generating activities. For example, WaterAid has documented the case of Zeini Batti, from Ethiopia, widow and family breadwinner, describing the economic benefits of having water close to home: "In the past, I used to devote five hours a day to fetch water. Since 1995 when the water point was built, life has somehow become easy. I now have more time, and can do other activities like basket-weaving and making utensils. I now save a minimum of Birr 21-22 (£2) each year." (Looking Back, 2001).
Ensure proper security from the water source to the household and implement strict laws to save the women from sexual and other violence.
Providing rural schools with water and latrines
Promoting hygiene education in classroom
Include areas for poor and low income people in urban infrastructure and provide proper supply of water and sanitation.
Ensure women's empowerment and participation in the local, community, national and government level activities that are undertaken to improve the water supply and sanitation.
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