Even in their daily lives, women and girls are the first to suffer without clean water and decent toilets, given the traditional gender roles imposed by society. Women and girls are usually the stewards of household water and managers of household sanitation, and are most often the primary caregivers of children, the elderly and/or sick relatives. When they menstruate, they often miss work, avoid school and suffer economic losses for the family. Around the world, women and children spend 200 million hours
every day collecting water, according to UNICEF. This makes up an additional 266 million hours
of time each day lost because they have no toilet at home.
The WHO’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health has, on behalf of its over 1000 members, issued a Covid-19 Call to Action
. It urges governments to protect and promote the health and rights of women, children and adolescents by strengthening political commitment, policies and financing for seven key interrelated issues. They include the advancement of gender equality and the provision of functional, safe and clean toilet and hand washing facilities, and quality potable drinking water, with a particular focus on healthcare centers, schools and centers for refugees and internally displaced persons.
Similarly, at Sanitation and Water for All, a global partnership committed to achieving universal access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation, we are calling on governments to provide women and girls with opportunities for decision-making and access to and control of resources.
the World Bank, 18% of the workforce in water and sanitation are women, yet they make up less than one in four managerial or engineering staff, resulting in policies and systems that aren’t designed for women’s needs. Admirably, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa and Peru have all adopted
ambitious national policies aimed at increasing the number of women working in the water and sanitation sector and changing the way water resources are managed. More countries should follow suit.
Water and sanitation are pillars of public health and dignity — we can prevent pandemics with them, and they can save a mother or child’s life. We must unite to improve gender equality and human rights by giving women and girls the safety and dignity of clean water and sanitation and removing inequitable work burdens. This International Women’s Day, we must stand together to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to safe water and sanitation.