Friday, March 9, 2012

The Word on Women - Empowering Women Through Water and Sanitation by Barbara Frost

This year’s International Women’s Day focuses on empowering rural women. As we know only too well water, improved hygiene and sanitation are key to women’s empowerment and poverty alleviation.

Women spend a staggering 40 billion working hours every year collecting water – valuable hours lost that could be spent earning a living or looking after their families. Walking to collect water and carrying heavy loads usually falls to women and girls, reinforcing gender inequalities in employment and education. As we see so often, the lack of basic water and sanitation services means lost opportunities for girls in gaining an education – so critical for girls’ empowerment.

Women are at the heart of everything WaterAid does. We all know how access to clean water and sanitation transforms the lives of women and girls, impacting on wider development. It gets girls back into school, women into employment, and improves health, dignity, wellbeing and independence.

We have been making some great progress, not only in meeting women’s immediate needs for clean water, safe toilets and improved hygiene, but also by championing their voices and their leadership. By involvement in project design and community decision making we see women become powerful advocates holding local service providers to account.

Seeing women take their power and challenge the gender stereotypes is always so inspirational. I have so much enjoyed meeting some of the wonderful skilled women water mechanics who have shown that they can take their place alongside the men.

The great news this week was that the world has met its target to halve the number of people living without access to clean water. This really shows what can be done with the right political will and investment.  However, there are still 783 million people being denied this human right, and 2.5 billion people still lack access to an adequate toilet. As a result, millions of women remain trapped in cycles of poverty and inequality.

WaterAid is committed to a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation – critical to this vision being realised will be a world where women can realise their full potential.

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