Promoting Access to Water: A Fundamental Way to Empower Women Worldwide
April 6, 2011
Vice President, Environment and Water Resources for the Coca-Cola Company
At Coca-Cola, water is vital to the sustainability of our business. We're working with partners in countries around the world to help manage water resources responsibly. As we've engaged in these partnerships, one of the things we've learned is how important access to water and sanitation is to the empowerment of women and girls.
Let’s look at just a couple of the facts:
- On average, women and girls in developing countries walk more than three miles a day, 15 hours a week, fetching water. That daily grind keeps them away from school and from more productive work.
- The lack of adequate sanitation for adolescent girls contributes to lower school attendance. Of the 120 million school-age children not attending school, the majority are girls. As a direct result, women account for two-thirds of global illiteracy.
These facts perpetuate cycles of gender inequality and general poverty. Reversing this situation and supporting initiatives that promote access to water for women and girls is fundamentally a women’s empowerment issue. It ‘s also a world empowerment opportunity, because a real driver for change and growth of our world in the twenty-first century will be women. The truth is that women already are the most dynamic and fastest-growing economic force in the world today. Yet today in Africa, women and girls spend over 40 billion hours per year collecting water. Imagine what could be accomplished if that time was liberated for other opportunities. Creating a climate of success for women globally is smart business for any company, especially a consumer facing company like Coca-Cola.
Let me share a quick story that illustrates the benefits of helping empower women. In the outskirts of Bamako, we and USAID partnered with local community organizations led by women to extend credit for water kiosks – standpipes with meters attached to the municipal water supply to enable expanded safe water access. These women charged for the water they dispensed, and from those proceeds paid the utility for their water, and paid themselves a wage. But, being women, they also held back some of their revenues to reinvest in their community. As a result, they were able to fund the construction of a simple ablution block near the local school, thereby providing the facilities and privacy that made it easier for adolescent girls to continue their education.
At Coca-Cola, we believe that empowering women and having water as a key focus of our sustainability efforts are both central to our business and to our future. We recently announced that $6 million of our Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) project funding in 2011 will be dedicated to improving the lives of 250,000 women and girls in Africa. With these funds, RAIN will help provide increased access to clean water within communities thereby decreasing the amount of time that women and girls spend collecting water. RAIN funds will provide gender-segregated latrines in schools and thereby encourage female attendance at school. The funds will offer training sessions to women and girls on the productive use of water and farming to improve agricultural yields. And RAIN funds will work to ensure that women in Africa play a significant role on village water committees and on water project steering committees.
We firmly believe that access to safe water and sanitation are sources to solutions for women’s empowerment and human progress. We’ve seen this take shape through educational initiatives, environmental programs, human-health programs, agricultural initiatives, cultural programs and economic development initiatives. All of these initiatives are connected by water and they touch and enable women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship. By building on these connections, we can help bring about tremendous positive change.