A new report released by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), reveals that globally, women are more likely to be responsible for fetching water for households, while girls are almost twice as likely as boys to take on this responsibility and to spend more time doing it each day.
Entitled “Progress in Household Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) 2000-2022: A Particular Focus on Gender,” the document provides the first in-depth analysis of gender inequalities in drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. It also notes that women and girls are more likely to feel unsafe when using toilets outside the home and disproportionately feel the impact of poor hygiene.
According to Cecilia Sharp, Director of WASH and CEED at UNICEF, “every step a girl takes to fetch water is a step away from learning, play and safety. Unsanitary water, toilets and handwashing at home rob girls of their potential, undermine their well-being and perpetuate cycles of poverty”.
“Addressing the needs of girls in the design and implementation of drinking water, sanitation and hygiene programs is essential to achieve universal access to water and sanitation and the realization of the gender equality and empowerment,” she added.
Privacy, dignity and security
According to the report, globally, 1.8 billion people live in households without an on-site water supply. Women and girls aged 15 and over are primarily responsible for collecting water in 7 out of 10 of these households, compared to 3 out of 10 households for their male counterparts.
Girls under 15 (7%) are also more likely than boys under 15 (4%) to fetch water. In most cases, women and girls travel longer distances to retrieve it, wasting time in education, work and leisure, and exposing themselves to the risk of physical injury and danger in the process. road.
The report also shows that more than half a billion people still share sanitation facilities with other households, compromising the privacy, dignity and safety of women and girls. For example, recent surveys in 22 countries show that among households with shared toilets, women and girls are more likely than men and boys to feel unsafe when walking alone at night and to face sexual harassment and other safety risks.
In addition, inadequate clean water, sanitation and hygiene services increase women’s and girls’ health risks and limit their ability to manage their periods safely and privately. Among the 51 countries for which data is available, women and adolescent girls from the poorest households and people with disabilities are the most likely to have no private place to wash and change.
In this regard, Director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department of WHO, Dr Maria Neira, underlines that “The latest WHO data shows a harsh reality: 1.4 million lives are lost each year due to a lack of water, sanitation and hygiene”.
“Women and girls not only face WASH-related infectious diseases, such as diarrhea and acute respiratory infections, but they also face additional health risks as they are vulnerable to harassment, violence and injury. when they have to leave their homes to fetch water or simply to use the toilet”, she notes.
More limited chances
The results then show that lack of access to hygiene also disproportionately affects women and girls. In many countries, women and girls are primarily responsible for domestic chores and caring for others – including cleaning, preparing food and caring for the sick – which likely exposes them to disease and harm. other risks to their health without the protection of hand washing. The extra time spent on household chores can also limit girls’ chances of completing high school and finding a job.
Today, around 2.2 billion people – or 1 in 4 – still do not have safely managed drinking water at home and 3.4 billion people – or 2 in 5 – do not have a sanitary facilities managed safely. About 2 billion people – or 1 in 4 people – cannot wash their hands with soap and water at home.
The report notes some progress towards achieving universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. Between 2015 and 2022, household access to safely managed drinking water increased from 69 to 73%, safely managed sanitation increased from 49 to 57%, and basic hygiene services are increased from 67 to 75%.
But reaching the Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to safely managed drinking water, sanitation and basic hygiene services by 2030 will require a six-fold increase in current rates of progress. for safely managed drinking water, a fivefold increase for safely managed sanitation and a threefold increase for basic sanitation services.
Further efforts are needed to ensure that progress in drinking water, sanitation and hygiene contributes to gender equality, including mainstreaming gender considerations into drinking water, sanitation and sanitation programs and policies. sanitation and hygiene and the collection and analysis of disaggregated data, to inform targeted interventions that address the specific needs of women and girls and other vulnerable groups.