The water bearers: Women and children

Women bear the brunt of collecting water. (Supplied)

Women bear the brunt of collecting water. (Supplied) notes: “Glass ceilings aside, millions of women are prohibited from accomplishing little more than survival. Not because of a lack of ambition, or ability, but because of a lack of safe water and adequate sanitation.” Indeed, the image of women with jerry cans on their backs, tracking kilometres to fetch water from remote sources, is as old as time in many parts of Africa and Asia.

Traditional roles and inequalities in power make women the primary caregivers. They have to retrieve water to cook and care for children, the elderly and people with disabilities. They need to be made part of the decision-making structures. The South African Human Right Commision found that more girls than boys miss school because they are required to fetch water for their households. While women are most affected by a lack of access to water, they are also less likely to be consulted when it comes to decision making processes.

The World Bank found in 2000 that projects that are designed and managed with women involved are more sustainable and effective than those without such consultations. The commission’s report integrates the need to redress all forms of discrimination against women. One of the major findings in the committee’s consultation was the lack of awareness at municipal level of gender policies and legislation within the water boards. Many municipalities were unable to produce gender disaggregated data to the committee. Many still do not recognise that access to water and sanitation is a gendered issue.

The commission has recommended that water boards are made more aware of the need for gender equity in their employment practices. If women bear the brunt of collecting water, it is the children who are most affected by contaminated and unclean water. The UN Development Programme found that approximately 443-million school days are lost each year due to illness (such as diarrhoea) caused by poor water sources.

A lack of proper sanitation still kills more children than malaria, measles, and Aids combined. Around the globe, there are 980-million children without toilets at home. The fact that children need to walk into remote bushes to relieve themselves exposes them to sexual violence and kidnapping.

This supplement was paid for and its contents and photos provided by and signed off by the South African Human Rights Commission.