Improvements made in the availability, affordability and accessibility of water and sanitation goes a long way to improving the quality of life for the lives of billions of people. This is why safe drinking water and sanitization has been recognized by the United Nations as a fundamental human right. As of 2012, close to a billion people did not have access to water from a protected well, protected spring, collected rainwater or tap. When it comes to the burden of collecting water, what’s common throughout Africa is that women and girls hold the larger end of the stick. Women and girls are tasked with walking long miles to fetch water from clean streams and other water sources. This translates to less time spent, studying, learning a craft, or discovering other opportunities of enhancing one’s life. With the total time spent fetching water, the same amount of time can be used to engage in life’s more thrilling and fulfilling pursuits. However, this is the reality for many women and girls throughout Africa.
Menstruation, hygiene and security
700 million sanitation facilities around the world are shared spaces which mean women and girls suffer a huge disadvantage as there is a lack of privacy and security. The limited access to water and sanitation by women and girls, especially in rural areas affect how they are able to manage menstruations which can advertently affect their overall physical health, well-being and education (as girls fail to attend school when there are no adequate sanitary facilities during their menstruation), which all affect their future job prospects.
Women require more privacy to attend to their needs as evident if you’ve ever driven down a busy Lagos street and spotted a male urinating on the side of the road. You probably have NEVER seen a woman or girl do the same on the road and therein lies the point – women require sanitary facilities.
Water collection burden
It is a well-known fact that in rural parts of African countries, today, women and girls fetch water from the local streams and rivers which increases their vulnerability to sexual assault along the way, reduces their amount of available time to spend learning a trade among other important life ventures. This water collecting burden disproportionality places women and girls in the position to travel long distances for hours on foot daily for, oftentimes, inadequate amounts of water. Between the years 2006 to 2009, data collected showed the percentage of water collection burden distributed in sub- Saharan African households as boys (6%), girls (9%), men (23%), and women (62%). A survey from 25 countries showed that women spend a combined total of 16 million hours per day fetching water.
Power dynamics and political prioritization play a huge role in decisions made on women’s accessibility to water and sanitation. These dynamics influence whether a mother is able to access water in a shared water supply where her rights are not respected or decisions on water accessibility are governed by a select few men who do not share the same water-based sanitary needs. This impairs a woman from caring for herself and children in ways she deems adequate. Such regulations and limited access to sanitation may not be experienced in richer households, but they are indeed significant in households and communities of lower socio-economic levels. There are politics behind who gets access to water, for what purpose, and how wastewater is disposed and treated which are all usually governed by men or a select few which can jeopardize the other members of the community.
Stats of clean water in Sub Saharan Africa
Oceania and sub-Saharan Africa rank highest with the amount of people relying on unsafe water sources, including water from rivers, streams and unprotected wells. 2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to improved sanitation facilities such as flushing toilets and ventilated pits. For over 1 billion people, open defecation is all they have access to. Only 55% of sub-Saharan households were within 15 minutes to a water source. For special instances like caring for a new-born baby, having your water source more than 15 minutes away can be detrimental to the health and survival of the child increasing the levels of infant mortality and lowering life expectancy rates of a nation.
By ensuring good sanitation and adequate water supply, caregivers would also be enabled to reduce the amount of load placed on them which can further enable them to seek pay in other areas and to also further their education. Legendary singer, Fela Kuti, puts it so rightly when singing “water no get enemy” as water and sanitation affects so much and it finds its importance in everything from health, to life expectancy, education, security, livelihood, environment and food security. It is imperative to join forces with local efforts to ensure water supply is constant and clean to reduce the number of diseases, high security risks for women and girls and the disproportionate burden of water collection placed primarily on women.