Access to clean water remains a challenge for rural women and girls
By Richard Nyamanhindi
3 September 2013 - “My name is Tatenda Dhlakhama* from Chipinge District in Manicaland. Every morning I wake up at 5 a.m. to go and fetch water for the family. Sometimes my mother accompanies me to the water source, which is about four kilometres away from our home.
On my way to the water source, I usually meet my classmates who will already be heading to school. I am often late for school and on some days I totally miss classes as the long queues at the water source usually disappear around 8 a.m. At times, I cannot attend classes because I will be tired.
Imagine walking for four kilometres with a 20 litre bucket full of water on your head. The doctor at Chipinge District Hospital once advised us that we must be careful with our water loads as heavy loads can lead to physical damage to our backs and necks. Maybe that explains why my mother always complains about her back and now cannot carry heavy loads over long distances.
I wish we had a clean water source near our homestead. I will be able to go to school every day. I want to become a nurse when I complete my studies, and this can only be achieved if I excel at school and go to a nursing training institution. However, it is sad that this may remain a dream for me as I may fail to sit for my Grade 7 examinations this year.”
Tatenda’s story is not an isolated case as there are many women and girls in Zimbabwe and indeed Africa who are facing similar challenges.
Access to safe and clean drinking water is a basic human right and is essential for achieving gender equality, sustainable development and poverty alleviation. According to the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, the world’s health sectors would save around US$12 billion a year if everyone has access to adequate and clean water services.
In addition, access to clean water is also critical towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. With the 2015 deadline almost upon us, a 2013 MDG Progress Report shows that Zimbabwe’s progress around halving the proportion of the population without improved drinking water is insufficient to reach the target if the prevailing trends persist.
It is sad that women such as Tatenda’s mother still find it difficult to find access to clean water. Chances are even high that future generations including Tatenda could face the same water crises if action is not taken.
In light of this observation, there is need for renewed and intensified efforts by all stakeholders to ensure that both poor rural and urban communities have access to clean water.
It is also important for all stakeholders to continue raising awareness on the importance of access to clean water. This way, citizens can more fully understand that water is a human right and can demand accountability from their leaders to keep their promises on improving access to clean water.
If the right policies on water development are adopted and implemented, Zimbabwe will be in a better position to address gender inequality and promote sustainable development.
Ultimately, young girls who are in similar situations such as that faced by Tatenda will be able to be in school and complete their education, which is the gateway in securing economic empowerment. When economically empowered, women have a wide range of choices such as choosing whether to stay in an abusive relationship or not.
*Not her real name.