A New and Promising Decade for Women and Girls
April 4, 2011
Director of Global Partnerships, WASH Advocacy Initiative
Two important developments over the last decade are converging to offer a monumental opportunity to advance the lives of millions of women and girls around the world. These women have been held back from healthy, productive lives due to lack of access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
first development is the growing movement that positions women as agents of change and leaders, rather than victims. There has been a recent surge of investment in programs to educate, empower and advance women and girls, by offering them tools to improve their lives and engaging them as active participates and decision makers at all levels of development. This new movement has shown global leaders that by investing in women, essential and sustainable changes can be made.
The second notable development is the demonstrable progress in providing sustainable safe drinking water to those in need. About 87% of the world now has access to safe drinking water. However, there is still a lag in the delivery of sanitation. Only 60% of the world’s population has access to basic sanitation. Progress indeed – but not fast enough and with large discrepancies in areas such as Sub Sahara Africa and South East Asia. Each year 2.2 million people in developing countries die from preventable disease associated with lack of access to WASH, and 90% of those deaths are children under the age of five.
This global health crisis is solvable with current technology and solutions. Women are increasingly recognized as part of the solution.
The gender connection is as crystal clear as the water should be. The lack of WASH affects the health, education, economic opportunity, environment and security of women and girls. With improved access, women and girls, who spend hours every day fetching unclean water, can put their time towards more productive, often income producing, activities. Closer access keeps them from being exposed to risks related to health and security. Women account for two-thirds of the world’s illiteracy. When girls have access to sanitation facilities, they stay in school longer and begin to break the cycles of gender inequality and poverty.
Improving the lives of women and girls and has a proven far reaching ripple effect in communities around the world.
Two sectors of development – WASH and WOMEN - are beginning to join forces and accelerate the delivery of existing solutions for clean water, sanitation and hygiene. Given that women have the most experience with water delivery at the local level, it is now recognized that they should be included in policy making and management. Studies show that projects designed and run with the full participation of women are more sustainable and effective.
Women’s leadership will play a key role in the coming decade to solve the global challenge of WASH. Partnerships and alliances are forming among women’s networks in developed and developing countries to raise awareness, advocate policy changes and increase resources. There is momentum growing for a global movement of women to mobilize their voices, votes and financial resources for WASH on behalf of women and families in need.
These are transformative times, and one of the greatest transformations will come as a result of women’s leadership enabling water, sanitation and hygiene for ALL.
For additional information:
UNICEF/WHO Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation: www.wssinfo.org
ICRW: Infrastructure Shortfalls Cost Poor Women Time and Opportunity