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Tangled Realities: Unveiling the Link between Water Insecurity and Gender Inequality

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

Around the world, one in ten people lack access to safe drinking water. For more, access to water is not enough. Water sources can be unsafe, far from home, and unreliable. Water is one of the four basic human needs for survival. When this need is not met, people die. It’s no surprise that Water Scarcity is an issue that threatens all humans.

Commonly known as a humanities issue, Water Scarcity is also a Gender Equality issue. In 80% of households with water outside the house, women and young girls are responsible for collecting the water. When women are the primary water purveyors, they lose time, opportunities, and become susceptible to disease. These consequences contribute to more issues. Poor economies, health, and a cycle of gendered divisions continue because of Water Scarcity's impact on women.

Women Lose Time and Opportunities Collecting Water

Women and girls worldwide spend 200 million collective hours daily just walking back and forth to fetch water. For young girls, this is time that could be spent in school. Their lack of education will develop into a lack of contribution to their communities. Numerous studies show that access to clean and close water increases school attendance.

For older women, time spent walking to get water is time that could be spent participating in their local economies. In rural India, it is estimated that the time women spend collecting water is equivalent to a loss of $160 million. This loss of time means women can’t have jobs, provide for their families, and provide valuable contributions to their society.

Water scarcity and insecurity magnify gender inequality, in some ways being the barrier to achieving gender equity in certain areas.

Women’s Health Deteriorates Under Water Scarcity

Unsafe water threatens the health of all, but women and younger girls are more susceptible to waterborne disease when they are the primary collectors of water. Furthermore, unsafe water can lead to unsafe pregnancies and unsafe menstrual hygiene practices.

Having to walk so much to collect water, and then carry heavy containers of said water is physically demanding. Pregnant women, menstruating women, or younger girls may not have the ability to perform said tasks without contracting severe musculoskeletal trauma. This weakens their immune systems, bone structure, and the strength of their muscles.

Women Don’t Have To Face These Struggles

Gender Equality can sometimes be difficult to achieve, rooted in deep cultural and physiological beliefs. However, Gender Equality concerning water has a clear fix. Access to close and clean water for all families and people will alleviate the burden that women and girls face being primary water purveyors. Working with Gender Equity in mind when creating action plans and policies, and educating about water scarcity will help create more awareness and get rid of systematic barriers.

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