Friday, October 14, 2016

In many poor and developing countries, including Uganda, more than 50% of the women spend as much as half of the daylight hours of every day of their lives on 4 tasks - fetching water, fetching firewood, fetching food and cooking. Tradition continues to place the responsibility for finding and collecting water for their families squarely on the shoulders of the females. They walk long distances, wait for hours in long queues and carry heavy water containers. The work is backbreaking and all consuming.  Often, because of the long distances, many choose to fetch water from a closer but unsafe source, and consequently suffer numerous and sometimes deadly, water borne illnesses. Additionally, many women are sexually assaulted as they fetch water far from their homes in the early morning or late evening hours.
Once they are old enough, girls join this effort and begin to suffer the same physical, sexual and psychological assaults. They, like their mothers begin to spend countless hours trying to provide this basic life necessity.
The number of hours spent by women and children, mostly girls, fetching water and firewood distorts their entire lives.  It deprives them of the opportunities to do other things that could benefit and improve their lives, their families and their communities, such as education and income-producing activities; and more importantly for the mothers, the opportunity to spend more time rearing their children.
Additionally, the women, much more so than the men, suffer from the lack of adequate sanitation; the often unspoken part of the water and sanitation crisis. The sanitation crisis for women can be summed up in one word, ‘dignity’. Around the world, fewer than one person in three has access to a toilet. This impacts health and puts their safety at risk. About half of all girls worldwide attend schools without toilets. This lack of privacy causes many girls to drop out of school when they reach puberty.
The dual aspects of the water crisis – lack of water and lack of sanitation – lock women in a cycle of poverty. If they cannot attend school, they cannot earn a decent income.  There is also an often overlooked correlation between school attendance and pregnancy.  Girls that stay in school are far less likely to become pregnant.
With safe water and proper sanitation facilities, the possibilities are truly life saving and life changing:
·        Increased school attendance, level of education and literacy rates.
·         Reduced child and maternal mortality as a result of access to safe water, sanitation facilities and improved hygiene during childbirth.
·        Increased dignity and reduced psychological stress when symptoms associated with menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth can be managed discreetly.
·        Reduced physical injury from constant lifting and carrying heavy loads of water.
·        Reduced risk of rape and sexual assault.
·        Increased recognition of women as having skills and knowledge outside their traditional roles.
·        Strengthened voice for women in their families and communities to negotiate their own needs.
·        New opportunities for women’s employment as well as greater autonomy and independence.