Women, girls bear brunt of water and sanitation crisis


Globally, women are most likely to be responsible for fetching water for households, while girls are
nearly twice as likely as boys to bear the responsibility, and spend more time doing it each day,
according to a new report released by UNICEF and WHO this week.
Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) 2000-2022: Special focus on
gender – which provides the first in-depth analysis of gender inequalities in WASH – also notes that
women and girls are more likely to feel unsafe using a toilet outside of the home and
disproportionately feel the impact of lack of hygiene.
“Every step a girl takes to collect water is a step away from learning, play, and safety,” said Cecilia
Sharp, UNICEF Director of WASH and CEED.
“Unsafe water, toilets, and handwashing at home robs girls of their potential, compromises their
well-being, and perpetuates cycles of poverty. Responding to girls’ needs in the design and
implementation of WASH programmes is critical to reaching universal access to water and sanitation
and achieving gender equality and empowerment.”
According to the report, globally, 1.8 billion people live in households without water supplies on the
Women and girls aged 15 and older are primarily responsible for water collection in seven out of 10
such households, compared with three in 10 households for their male peers.
Girls under 15 (7 percent) are also more likely than boys under 15 (4 percent) to fetch water. In most
cases, women and girls make longer journeys to collect it, losing time in education, work, and
leisure, and putting themselves at risk of physical injury and dangers on the way.
The report also shows that more than half a billion people still share sanitation facilities with other
households, compromising women’s and girls’ privacy, dignity, and safety.
Recent surveys from 22 countries show that among households with shared toilets, women and girls
are more likely than men and boys to feel unsafe walking alone at night and face sexual harassment
and other safety risks.
Furthermore, inadequate WASH services increase health risks for women and girls and limit their
ability to safely and privately manage their periods.
Among 51 countries with available data, women and adolescent girls in the poorest households and
those with disabilities are the most likely to lack a private place to wash and change.
“The latest data from WHO shows a stark reality: 1.4 million lives are lost each year due to
inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Environment,
Climate Change and Health Department.
“Women and girls not only face WASH-related infectious diseases, like diarrhoea and acute
respiratory infections, they face additional health risks because they are vulnerable to harassment,
violence, and injury when they have to go outside the home to haul water or just to use the toilet."

The findings go on to show that a 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 looking after the sick – which likely exposes them to
diseases and other risks to their health without the protection of handwashing.
Additional time spent on domestic chores can also limit girls’ chances of completing secondary
school and gaining employment.
Today, around 2.2 billion people – or one in four – still lack safely managed drinking water at home
and 3.4 billion people – or two in five – do not have safely managed sanitation. Around 2 billion
people – or one in four – cannot wash their hands with soap and water at home.
The report notes some progress towards achieving universal access to WASH. Between 2015 and
2022, household access to safely managed drinking water increased from 69 to 73 percent; safely
managed sanitation increased from 49 to 57 percent; and basic hygiene services increased from 67
to 75 percent.
But achieving the Sustainable Development Goal target for 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 five-fold increase for safely managed
sanitation, and a three-fold increase for basic hygiene services.
WHO said more efforts are needed to ensure that progress on WASH contributes towards gender
equality, including integrated gender considerations in WASH programmes and policies and
disaggregated data collection and analysis, to inform targeted interventions that address the specific
needs of women and girls and other vulnerable groups.

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