Women and girls shoulder the primary responsibility for water collection in seven out of ten households without access to water supply, according to a recent report by UNICEF and WHO.
The study provides a comprehensive analysis of gender inequalities in drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), revealing the profound impact of the global water and sanitation crisis on women and girls.
BILLIONS STILL LACK ACCESS: THE MAGNITUDE OF THE CHALLENGE
Globally, approximately 2.2 billion people lack safely managed drinking water at home, while 3.4 billion lack access to safe sanitation. Shockingly, around two billion individuals cannot practice proper hand washing with soap and water within their households. The report highlights that women are predominantly tasked with fetching water for households, and girls are nearly twice as likely as boys to be burdened with this responsibility are.
THE TOLL OF DANGEROUS JOURNEYS: EDUCATION, WORK, AND SAFETY AT STAKE
Women and girls often undertake arduous journeys to fetch water, resulting in the loss of educational opportunities, work prospects, and leisure time. Moreover, they face physical injury risks and other dangers along the way. Cecilia Sharp, UNICEF Director of WASH and CEED, emphasizes that every step a girl takes to collect water takes her further away from learning, play, and safety. Unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and limited hand washing facilities at home not only hinder girls’ potential but also compromise their well-being, perpetuating cycles of poverty.
THE BURDEN OF WATER COLLECTION: LACK OF PRIVACY AND DIGNITY
In households without water supplies on the premises, nearly two billion people worldwide live. In these households, women and girls aged 15 and older are predominantly responsible for water collection, compared to men and boys. Additionally, women and girls face feelings of insecurity while using toilets outside the home and disproportionately bear the impacts of inadequate hygiene. More than half a billion people worldwide share sanitation facilities, compromising women’s and girls’ privacy, dignity, and safety. Surveys from 22 countries reveal that women and girls using shared toilets are more likely to feel unsafe walking alone at night and experience sexual harassment and other safety risks. Inadequate WASH services further increase health risks and limits women’s and girls’ ability to manage their periods safely and privately.
URGENT ACTION REQUIRED: PROTECTING LIVES AND ENSURING ACCESS
Dr. Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Environment, Climate Change and Health Department, highlights the dire consequences of inadequate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene, with 1.4 million deaths occurring annually. Women and girls face not only WASH-related infectious diseases but also heightened vulnerability to harassment, violence, and injury when they must venture outside their homes to fetch water or use the toilet. The report emphasizes the need for collective efforts to address these challenges.
PROGRESS AND THE PATH AHEAD: TOWARDS UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO WASH SERVICES
While progress has been made, the report acknowledges that greater efforts are required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of universal access to safely managed WASH services by 2030. Between 2015 and 2022, there has been an increase in household access to safely managed drinking water, sanitation, and basic hygiene services. However, sustained action and investment are necessary to bridge the existing gaps and ensure equitable and safe WASH services for all.
- 1.8 billion People collect drinking water from supplies located off premises,1 and in seven out of ten households women and girls are primarily responsible for water collection.
- Over half a billion people share sanitation facilities with other households and emerging data show that among these, women are more likely than men to feel unsafe walking alone after dark.
- Lack of hand washing facilities disproportionately impacts adolescent girls and women who are primarily responsible for childcare and domestic chores in many countries around the world.
- Inadequate WASH services limit the ability of adolescent girls and women, and other persons who menstruate, to safely and privately manage their periods
- In 2022, 2.2 billion people still lacked safely managed drinking water, including 1.5 billion with basic services, 292 million with limited services, 296 million with unimproved and 115 million drinking surface water
- 3.4 billion people In 2022 still lacked safely managed sanitation, including 1.9 billion with basic services, 570 million with limited services, 545 million with unimproved services and 419 million practising open defecation
- In 2022, 2 billion people still lacked basic hygiene services, including 1.3 billion with limited services and 653 million with no facility.
- Adolescent girls and women in the poorest wealth quintile and those with functional difficulties were more likely to lack a private place to wash and change their menstrual materials at home.