(New York, 21 March) On World Water Day, UN Women is calling attention to the urgent need to increase access to clean water and basic sanitation and to support the initiative of UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson to enhance progress on sanitation ahead of the 2015 target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Lack of access to basic sanitation infrastructures disproportionately impacts women and girls and puts them at a greater risk of violence and assault when there are no facilities in their homes. Lack of safe, private toilets at schools is one of the reasons for high drop-out rates amongst young girls and is a major impediment to girls’ education. Today, 2.5 billion people still do not have access to proper sanitation, increasing their vulnerability to diseases.
The lack of access to drinking water also disproportionately affects women and girls. In many countries, women and girls carry out most tasks related to water – they walk long hours to fetch water, they cook, they clean, they care for the sick and the elderly, and they grow food for their families and communities. Lack of access to drinking water increases their burden and reduces their time for other activities, such as going to school or earning an income.
Globally, it is estimated that women spend more than 200 million hours per day collecting water. This burden could increase significantly in coming years. By 2030, nearly half the global population could be facing water scarcity, with demand outstripping supply by 40 per cent. One in every three people already lives in a country with moderate to high water stress.
Research shows that increasing women’s representation in governments and decision-making —one of UN Women’s key priorities— makes a difference. For example, in India, the number of drinking water projects was 62 per cent higher in areas with female-led local councils than in those with male-led councils.
Yet, women’s participation in decision-making on water and food management remains low and women are not sufficiently prioritized in water policies, programmes and infrastructure. Today, women hold less than six per cent of all ministerial positions in the field of environment, natural resources and energy and they are underrepresented at lower levels as well.
Now is the time to take action and prioritize women and girls in the provision of drinking water and sanitation for all. This was reaffirmed last year at Rio+20 as a key component of sustainable development.