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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

WASH and Women

© UNICEF/HQ07-0641/Giacomo Pirozzi
A girls’ burden: hauling water in Lofa County, Liberia.

UNICEF’s overall objective in the water and sanitation sector is to promote the survival, protection and development of children, and to promote behavioural changes essential to realizing the full benefits of water and sanitation services.

These and other objectives cannot be met without the full participation of women. In much of the world, women and girls are traditionally responsible for domestic water supply and sanitation, and maintaining a hygienic home environment. As managers at the household level, women also have a higher stake in the improvement of water and sanitation services and in sustaining facilities.

UNICEF aims, through its country programmes, to promote the equal rights of women and girls and to support their full participation in the political, social, and economic development of their communities – UNICEF Mission Statement

UNICEF is working to ensure that women are directly involved in the planning and management of water supply and sanitation programmes, and that hygiene promotion interventions are specifically designed to reach women and girls.

UNICEF-supported programmes also strive to address the inequities suffered by women and girls related to water and sanitation services.

Women and girls bear the burden of fetching water – and as a result miss out on opportunities for education, productive activities or leisure time.

© Source: MICS and DHS surveys from 25 sub-Saharan African countries
Distribution of the water collection burden among women, children under age 15 and men in households without piped water on premises, 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 2006-2009 (per cent)

Women and girls also pay the heaviest price for poor sanitation. There are many reasons, beyond the health repercussions of inadequate sanitation, for why it is a priority issue for women and girls:

Freedom from imprisonment by daylight
In many cultures, the only time available for women or girls to defecate, if they don't have a latrine, is after dark. Apart from the discomfort caused by the long wait, this can cause serious illness. And there is also a risk of harassment and assault during the night-time walk to and from the communal defecation fields.

School enrolment and attendance
The lack of safe, separate and private sanitation and washing facilities in schools is one of the main factors preventing girls from attending school, particularly when menstruating.

Reduce the burden of caring for the sick
The health and lives of more than half the world's children are constantly threatened by environmental hazards as they get sick through contact with excreta in their environment. Caring for sick children adds to the already heavy workload of women and girls.

Protect pregnant women from diseases
About 44 million pregnant women have sanitation-related hookworm infections that pose a considerable health burden in developing societies.



Additional Information

Gender mainstreaming in water and sanitation

UN Water Gender Water and Sanitation Policy Brief

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