Women Navigating Water: 5 Reflections

Women Navigating Water

March is a month that celebrates many things. If you're Irish, mad about basketball, a women's history activist, or like to open umbrellas indoors (yes, indeed there is a "day" for that), March has something for you. For us at ENLACE, we love to celebrate Women and Water!

International Women's Day

International Women's Day = March 8

World Water Day

World Water Day = March 22

When addressing water and sanitation issues in under-resourced communities, we are addressing issues related to the rights of women and girls.

Affordable access to clean water continues to be a worldwide problem especially for marginal populations such as poor women. As the primary caregivers, these women draw, haul and manage their families’ water supplies, often accomplishing their daily responsibilities without the benefit of safe or accessible water.

But when women have affordable, accessible and safe water, their lives improve dramatically, and poverty is reduced.

1. Women Save Time & Money

For many families in poor contexts, the trek to water is more than just a daily hike. “It’s not uncommon for women and their children to walk a mile or more, often on tricky terrain,” says Dr. Evelyn Berdugo, ENLACE’s Health Program Coordinator in El Salvador.

When a woman in these circumstances finally has running water in her home, the time and money that is gained makes a huge impact.

It is estimated that fetching and hauling water takes up to 30% of a person’s time every week. For women who are struggling to make ends meet, gaining another 28 hours per week is a miracle.

“When I work on water projects,” said Juan Francisco “Paco” Gonzales, ENLACE’s Head Engineer, “women comment that not having to retrieve water is the biggest change for them.”

The women are running small businesses from their homes, planting and harvesting home gardens, selling homemade food door to door or working in factories. For them, the additional time saved IS money earned.

And for those women who have no water sources nearby and have to buy water, the math is undeniable.

“In many communities,” explains Gonzalez, “[women] pay $1.00-1.25 a barrel of water, and the average family consumes 45 barrels per month. Even though this water is often contaminated, they have no other option and end up paying around $45 per month. Most families we work with have a monthly income of $120. If the family is large, they can spend up to $60 per month on water. Half their income! However, after we work with the community to build a residential water system, they usually only pay from $5 to $15 per month for clean water!”

2. Women and Their Children Become Healthier

woman carrying waterAccording to the World Health Organization, approximately 842,000 people die each year from diarrhea as a result of unsafe drinking water, sanitation, and hand hygiene. Almost half of these deaths are children under five years. Yet diarrhea is largely preventable. Other preventable, water-borne diseases include cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio.

When a woman has clean water at home, “she and her family suffer less diseases because they have better hygiene by washing their hands frequently, washing their clothes more, and washing kitchen utensils regularly and even the tables where they eat,” says Gonzalez. “Women with clean, running water can also bathe more often and bathe their children daily. In so many ways, having water in the home is a great blessing.”

Additionally, Gonzalez observes, “the damage over time made to a woman’s head, neck and spine causes incredible physical pain, and for some, an eventual lack of mobility. For women who were once accustomed to walking over a mile to water sources using large cantaros (heavy clay or plastic jugs) balanced on their heads, getting running water in their homes increases the quality of their lives immediately.”

3. Women Become Better Educated

And according to Dr. Berdugo, “If children are the ones who have the chore of fetching water along with other chores such as caring for other siblings or agricultural endeavors, they may not be able to attend school as often as they need to.”

In fact, according to the UN, girls are more likely than boys to be among those to perform household chores such as fetching water. Clean water also keeps children healthy, ensuring uninterrupted attendance.

Ultimately, having clean, running water at home bolsters the access of education to girls who become the educated women of the future.

"School water and sanitation initiatives… contribute to dignify the educational experience of female students and staff...who need to make use of the facilities in distinct ways," said Noe Landaverde, ENLACE’s Infrastructure Program Advisor in El Salvador. “Complete and fully equipped restrooms are essential, therefore, to keep girls in school and increase their enrollment and graduation rates. In this way, water and sanitation systems are key to pushing gender equity forward.”

Click here to learn more about our 8 Core Development Outcomes.

4. Women Are Less Likely to Experience Violence

girls playing in waterWhen women and girls have access to water at home, there is less need to leave the home to engage in activities that make women and girls especially vulnerable

Activities such as getting water, bathing and/or traveling alone can often put women and girls at risk. The danger from gang violence is especially acute in poor areas.

Running water at home also provides new waste management possibilities and increases safety. “A bathroom at home,” says Berdugo, “provides women and girls with the privacy they need and helps them to avoid exposure and possible abuse in areas away from the home that are both public yet remote.”

Contribute now to latrines at home for women and girls in El Salvador.

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5. With ENLACE’s Approach, Women Become Powerful Leaders

ENLACE believes that while getting clean water is of primary importance to the health of families, it does actually matter how such projects come to pass if sustainability is a goal.

Even the best water systems can break down and if there is no plan or social capital to resolve problems, the project becomes unsustainable over time. Additionally, water projects can either empower women or assume their passive role as beneficiaries.

At ENLACE every water and sanitation project starts with empowering a local church to lead change in their communities with an inclusive vision. Church leaders, both women and men, reach out to their neighbors and build and strengthen local Water Boards and Community Associations.

These local CBOs, populated by strong women, are supported to organize and manage projects that connect to local and international organizations to create partnerships and maximize resources.

“At all stages, ENLACE projects involve all leaders in a community, including women,” says Berdugo. Iliana, the Community Association President in Cerro Colorado, El Salvador, who has worked with Berdugo, agrees. “In the same way that the church has become inclusive of all people in our community, we have learned as a Community Association to be inclusive of everyone. For example, I have now an opportunity to be the president when before it was just men!”

Click here to learn more about ENLACE’s water and sanitation initiatives!