Around the world, 663 million people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion people lack access to sanitation facilities. Lack of access to water and sanitation has negative impacts on all areas of a person’s life, from illness (and possible death) due to preventable waterborne diseases, to time lost to fetching water, and much more.
Although these impacts are felt by all, women and girls are disproportionately affected. In many parts of the world, women and girls are primarily responsible for the task of collecting water for household use. In Africa and Asia, they walk an average 6km a day to complete this task. When households lack a toilet or latrine, women often delay relieving themselves until night for privacy, but this practice can be harmful to their health. Women and girls also must deal with menstruation and pregnancy, which create additional needs for adequate materials (soap, water, and feminine products) and facilities (toilets, trash disposal, health clinics/hospitals with toilets, water, soap, etc.) to stay clean and free from infections. While lack of access to WASH in and of itself is an issue, it also impacts other areas of girls’ lives.
Education – Girls often spend more time than boys fetching water, which means time away from school and learning. Many schools lack sanitation facilities or have poor options that don’t include separate facilities for boys and girls. Due to inadequate facilities and lack of feminine hygiene products, some girls may miss school during their periods, causing them to fall behind in their studies.
Economics – The chore of fetching water falls primarily to women and girls, limiting the time they have to engage in other productive activities. When family members are sick (waterborne diseases constitute a significant portion of the global disease burden; diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death for children under 5 years old), women and girls often bear the burden of caring for them, further limiting time for work that might generate income to support their families.
Health – The physical task of fetching water can be extremely taxing – when a typical jerry can (plastic water container) is full, it can weigh more than 40 lbs – and women and girls risk physical injuries from carrying such heavy loads. These risks increase when women are pregnant, yet the task of collecting water remains. When women give birth, adequate WASH is important to prevent infections for both the mother and child, yet a 2015 report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that 38 percent of health facilities don’t have access to an improved source of water.