200 Million Hours Spent Fetching Water Affects Women and Girls Worldwide

Learn how women and girls around the world are spending a staggering amount of time each day collecting water, and the toll it takes on their physical health and educational opportunities.

Written by Rika Andini

Every single day, women and girls worldwide spend an astonishing 200 million hours collecting water, a task that affects their lives in numerous ways. Not only does the burden of water collection prevent them from accessing education, employment, and other opportunities, but it also poses a physical strain on their bodies. Carrying heavy containers over long distances under harsh conditions can be incredibly tiring, and it puts their health at risk. In addition to stealing time away from personal growth and educational pursuits, these women and girls often face dangerous conditions while collecting water, which can lead to injuries and other health issues.

It’s hard to accurately imagine such a vast amount of time, but UNICEF’s Sanjay Wijesekera has put into perspective just how much 200 million hours really is. In those 8.3 million days we could build entire cities, explore many universes, or even find a cure for disease. The possibilities are endless. Unfortunately, these 200 million hours are not spent on accomplishing such goals – instead over 768 million people spend it every year simply collecting water from far and wide. This wasted effort keeps individuals and communities locked in poverty and robs them of the opportunity to realize their full potential, including their right to education, economic participation and political engagement.1

The issue of water collection falls disproportionately on women and children, particularly in sub-Saharan countries, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and social exclusion. A study examining 24 countries found that nearly 17 million females were responsible for water collection, and women spend more than three times longer than men collecting water from external sources.

For instance, in Malawi, waters went as far as to say that women would spend 54 minutes collecting – double the amount of time men would spend. Unfortunately, due to lack of resources and persistent social discrimination, women often bear the burden – making access to clean water even more unlikely.2

The importance of addressing the root causes of gender inequality and investing in sustainable water and sanitation solutions that prioritize the needs of women and girls cannot be overstated. Access to safe and clean water is a fundamental human right that should be available to all, regardless of their gender, social status, or geographic location. By addressing this issue, we can empower women and girls, reduce poverty and social exclusion, and create a more just and equitable world.

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The Root Causes of the Problem

Every day, millions of women and girls around the world are tasked with collecting water for their families. This is a labor-intensive job that takes up a lot of time and energy, yet it often goes unnoticed or unappreciated. But why is it that women and girls are responsible for this task so often? Let’s take a closer look at the underlying reasons why women and girls are expected to bear the burden of collecting water for their households.

In many parts of the world, cultural and legal norms restrict women’s rights to own land or property. This limitation affects their ability to access resources and income-generating opportunities, leading to economic dependence on male family members. This lack of economic power means that women are often unable to invest in water infrastructure (such as wells or pumps) that could make their lives easier, leaving them with no choice but to collect water from distant sources themselves.

In some cultures, it is viewed as a woman’s job to take care of household tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and fetching water. These gender norms can place an undue burden on women who may have other responsibilities outside of the home as well, making them more likely to be responsible for collecting water than men or boys in the same household. Additionally, these gender norms can also discourage girls from seeking out educational or employment opportunities outside of the home, further reinforcing gender inequality in those areas.

Unfortunately, women and girls face additional risks while collecting water due to gender-based violence. In some cases they may be harassed by strangers while traveling long distances in search of clean water sources; in other cases they may even be attacked by wild animals while looking for water in rural areas. This risk can discourage them from seeking out other opportunities and reinforce gender norms that restrict their freedoms.

In some regions, cultural practices such as early marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) also contribute to women and girls’ limited access to education and economic opportunities, leading to their increased responsibility for water collection. Early marriage can disrupt a girl’s education and force her to take on household responsibilities, including water collection, at a young age. FGM/C, which is still practiced in many parts of the world, can also limit women’s mobility and physical capabilities, making it more difficult for them to carry heavy water containers over long distances.

According to available data, FGM is still practiced in many countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM. The practice is most common in countries like Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, Egypt, and Sierra Leone. In these countries, FGM is often viewed as a rite of passage for girls and a way to ensure their purity and prepare them for marriage. Despite being recognized as a human rights violation, FGM persists due to cultural beliefs, traditions, and social pressures in these societies.3

Some societies have strict gender roles that dictate that men should not be seen doing “women’s work” like water collection, leaving women and girls with no choice but to bear the burden. These deeply ingrained cultural practices and beliefs can be difficult to change but are essential to address to achieve gender equality and ensure access to safe water for all.

How Water Collection Affects Women and Girls Globally

The burden of collecting water can put a strain on women’s and girl’s physical health in numerous ways. For starters, they may have to carry heavy containers over long distances on foot. This can lead to chronic back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders caused by lugging around heavy loads for extended periods of time. Women and girls may also be exposed to dangerous animals or people while walking in search of water sources. And if the water source is contaminated, drinking it can lead to illnesses such as diarrhea, cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and even death in extreme cases.


Beyond its physical effects, carrying the burden of water collection also has a profound impact on women’s and girl’s mental well-being. The stress of having to spend hours searching for water can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and fatigue. Furthermore, this stress may prevent them from engaging in activities that promote positive mental health such as self-care practices or exercise.


In addition to physical and mental health issues caused by collecting water for their families, women and girls also face limitations when it comes to their educational opportunities due to this burden. When they are spending large amounts of time looking for water sources they are unable to attend school or participate in extracurricular activities with peers which can affect academic performance as well as social development skills.


Longer term impacts include being unable to pursue higher education due to lack of access or resources related to transportation costs associated with getting back and forth from school or university each day.  Women who are responsible for water collection are often unable to engage in income-generating activities, which limits their economic opportunities and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

How Gender Inequality is Perpetuated in Society

Gender inequality is an ongoing issue that affects many different areas of society. Whether it’s in the workplace, educational institutions, or even interpersonal relationships, there are countless examples of how gender inequality has been and continues to be perpetuated. Understanding these examples can help us to better understand the underlying issues and take steps to confront them.

One of the most well-known and significant ways gender inequality is perpetuated is through the pay gap. According to research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), women still earn less than men for performing the same job with similar qualifications. This pay gap exists across all industries; women working full-time make 84 cents for every dollar earned by men working full-time. Even occupations traditionally dominated by women—such as teachers, nurses, or administrative assistants—are not immune from this pay disparity; IWPR reports even in 2022, women earned less than men for full-time weekly work in 19 of the largest 20 most common occupations they held.4

Another example of how gender inequality is perpetuated can be seen in lack of representation in leadership roles. Despite making up half of the population, women are drastically underrepresented when it comes to positions such as CEOs or board members at major companies. According to a 2020 report from LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company, women held only 27% of executive positions across various industries in 2019 – a figure that hasn’t changed significantly since 2015 despite increasing awareness around this issue. This lack of representation leads to fewer opportunities for advancement and recognition amongst female employees within organizations, further perpetuating gender inequality on a larger scale.5

Unconscious bias refers to stereotypes about certain groups that are held by individuals without them even realizing it – such as believing that men are more capable leaders than women or that certain roles require specific genders in order to be successful. Unconscious bias affects hiring practices as well as career paths available for individuals within organizations; oftentimes leading employers to hire people based on their perceived ‘fit’ rather than their actual qualifications or abilities – resulting in more qualified candidates being passed over due to their gender or other demographic factors such as race or age.

Unconscious bias also plays a role in creating certain expectations about expected behavior from certain genders – presuming aggression from men and passivity from women, for instance – which can negatively affect performance evaluations or promotions down the line.

The Solutions to Address the Issue

One way to alleviate the burden of collecting water for women and girls is by building better infrastructure in rural areas. This includes digging wells or boreholes, installing pumps or tanks to make it easier to transport water from its source to users’ homes, and investing in pipelines that connect communities with larger-scale water sources. Such initiatives can help ensure that people have access to clean water without having to travel long distances – often through harsh terrain – just to collect it.

Many communities lack access to potable water sources due to contamination from pollutants or chemicals. To address this issue, organizations are partnering with local governments, businesses, NGOs, and other stakeholders to find innovative ways of getting safe drinking water into communities where it is most needed. These include projects such as installing filtration systems or teaching communities about proper sanitation practices that reduce the risk of contamination in their local waterways.

Gender inequality plays a major role in perpetuating the cycle of poverty worldwide—especially when it comes to access to resources like clean drinking water. To combat this problem, organizations are working hard on initiatives aimed at empowering women so they can have an equal say when it comes to decision making processes related to resource management within their respective communities. Such initiatives may include providing educational opportunities for girls so they can gain the knowledge necessary for participating in local decision-making processes or training female leaders on how best to manage their community’s resources responsibly.

Air Minum Bersih (AMB) and Kita Bisa are two organizations that can play a significant role in addressing the issue of water collection burden on women and girls. AMB focuses on providing access to clean and safe water in rural areas, where water scarcity is prevalent. The organization installs water filtration systems and provides education on proper sanitation practices. By providing access to clean water, AMB can reduce the time and physical burden placed on women and girls to collect water from distant sources, allowing them to focus on their education and other opportunities.

On the other hand, Kita Bisa is an online crowdfunding platform that allows individuals to support various causes, including water and sanitation projects. Through Kita Bisa, people can donate to organizations working towards providing clean water to communities in need. This support can help increase the availability of resources for organizations like AMB, enabling them to expand their reach and impact.

By supporting organizations like AMB and Kita Bisa, individuals can contribute to the effort to address the water collection burden on women and girls. Furthermore, governments can partner with these organizations to implement policies and programs that promote gender equality and ensure access to clean water for all. It is crucial to recognize that addressing the issue of water collection burden requires a collaborative effort that involves various stakeholders.

Tirta Murni Nusantara

Jalan Penestanan, Sayan,

Kecamatan Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, 80571

+ 62 821 4645 0217


AHU-0020799.AH.01.04 Tahun 2022

Berita Negara No 080 Tahun 2022

Akta Notaris
no 09, 30 September 2022

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