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.
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.