Approximately 748 million people around the world lack access to safe drinking water. Nearly half of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa. The water crisis in Africa especially impacts women, as they are typically the ones responsible for fetching water from local sources like rivers, wells and ponds for bathing, cooking and drinking.
In countries like Liberia, Ghana, Ethiopia and Sudan, women and young girls must often carry up to 40 pounds of water for an average of 3.5 miles each day. As a result of this responsibility, women in Africa often devote less time to family and to their education and consequently suffer a decrease in their quality of life. Here are the ways water scarcity and pollution in Africa affect women relative to men.
How Women in Africa Are Negatively Impacted More by The Water Crisis Than Men
Women in Africa are often tasked with hauling large quantities of water across the desert, and are thus frequently more affected by water scarcity than men, especially in rural areas. According to a 2017 study from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, 159 million people worldwide obtain water from sources that are considered unsafe and need to spend at least 30 minutes collecting it. A similar study of 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa approximated that women in these nations spent 16 million hours getting water every day.
Research conducted under the Millennium Water Program in Kenya in 2014 also concluded that although women in the country usually serve on water management committees, they often argued with men because they were often not invited to meetings or were not permitted to speak. A 2015 study by The Lancet also found that women across the world — including Africa — face higher risks of infection from diseases like diarrhea and trachoma because of the water crisis. The study also concluded that fetching water, bathing and open defecation often exposes women and girls to sexual assault as well as urinary tract infections, especially if they drink less during the day than men due to fear of harassment or rape.
A 2006 study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed even more starting facts and statistics. In rural Benin, girls between the ages of 6-14 spend on average one hour per day fetching water, while boys spend just 25 minutes daily on this task. In Malawi, women typically spend four or five times longer than men collecting water.
Women And The Water Crisis: Less or no Education Than Men
Gender disparities related to the water crisis are not only tied to proximity to water sources, but are also reflected in differences in education levels. The aforementioned UNDP study cited one survey conducted in Tanzania that concluded school attendance was 12 percent higher for girls in homes situated 15 minutes or less from a water source than in homes one hour or more away. Meanwhile, boys’ attendance rates varied little regardless of proximity to water sources.
Studies in sub-Saharan Africa also suggest women and girls from nations in this region devote 40 billion hours annually fetching water, which amounts to roughly one year’s worth of work by France’s entire labor force.
A 2010 study by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs also found that between 2005 and 2007 in sub-Saharan Africa, girls in rural households under the age of 15 were roughly twice as likely as boys under that age to be responsible for collecting water. The difference was much starker among women and girls above that age. Men over 15 were only responsible for fetching water in roughly 10 percent of rural households, while women over 15 in 60 percent of rural homes were in charge of collecting water. According to a 2014 U.N. report, 56% of out-of-school children are girls, while the Washington Post reported in 2016 that this same percentage of water collectors in South Africa were adult women.
How to Help Provide Clean Water to Women in Africa
Reach out to The Last Well in Rockwall, Texas for more information about how to help deliver safe drinking water to women and children in sub-Saharan Africa. This non-profit aims to provide clean water and the Gospel to the entire population of Liberia by the end of 2020, among other goals.
The Last Well accepts both cash and check donations, although it also promotes involvement through fundraisers, barge pledge fulfillments, mission groups and by sponsoring projects in villages throughout Africa. The charity also partners with dozens of organizations like Amazon for initiatives like AmazonSmile. Among the other groups The Last Well collaborates with are Assembly of God, CHRISEM, Access and Water of Life.