WASH and Women and Girls


Women and children are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and shoulder the largest burden in water collection worldwide. Addressing the WASH needs of women and children can provide direct and indirect benefits to the entire community, including health, education, and economic productivity.

The Challenge

In Africa and Asia, women and girls spend much of their time collecting and transporting water for their families.1 It is not unusual for women and girls to spend hours daily collecting water. For women, that time could be applied to income generating activities, housework, or childcare.2 For girls, that time could be spent in school.

There are numerous adverse health effects due to a lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene. When latrines are not available in households, women and girls will seek privacy after dark to defecate outside of their homes, exposing them to a greater risk of harassment and sexual assault.3 Out of fear, women and girls may choose to ignore their needs which may increase the likelihood of urinary tract infections, chronic constipation or mental stress.4

In addition, a lack of single-gender sanitation facilities in schools results in low levels of attendance among girls, perpetuating cycles of gender inequality and poverty.  Girls who have reached puberty and female school staff who are menstruating need gender-specific sanitation facilities. Without the privacy afforded by these facilities, menstruating school girls and staff often do not feel comfortable using school facilities, resulting in absenteeism 10-20 percent of the time.5


Women play a key role in sustainable solutions to the global WASH challenge. Empowering women helps communities reach their full health, economic and educational benefits. Therefore, WASH projects with positive financial benefits for women will contribute to overall community development.Women’s full participation in water and sanitation projects is strongly correlated with increased effectiveness and sustainability of these projects.6

Additionally, WASH facilities in schools can improve the lives of schoolchildren by significantly reducing disease, increasing school attendance7 and contributing to dignity and gender equality.

Many organizations are empowering women through WASH by including them in decision-making processes and in goal-setting. In Zimbabwe, CARE created borehole committees that involved women community members. The women’s contribution brought a new perspective. They highlighted community health concerns and provided input on construction design and maintenance of water points. In this and other communities, CARE built water points, which have empowered women by significantly decreasing water collection time and leaving more time for income generation or caring for families.8

In Uganda, WaterAid taught women to build rainwater harvesting jars for their community, freeing up time they typically spent collecting water and positioning them as WASH leaders in their communities. Another project in Uganda focused on WASH in Schools. WaterAid constructed single-gender sanitation facilities at a school with washrooms to help girls manage menstruation. Attendance at the school by girls has increased since the construction of these facilities.9

For more information, contact Jordan Teague at (202) 293-4047, jteague@WASHadvocates.org


1. United Nations, OHCHR, UN-HABITAT, WHO (2010). The Right to Water, Fact Sheet No. 35. (OHCHR report, p. 10) Retrieved from OHCHR website: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet35en.pdf.

2. Lenton, R., Wright, A., & Lewis, K. (2005). Health, Dignity, and Development: What Will it Take? (UN Millennium Project Report, p. 25). Retrieved from UN Millennium Project Website: http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/documents/WaterComplete-lowres.pdf

3. Amnesty International (2010). Risking Rape to Reach a Toilet: Women’s Experience in the Slums of Nairobi, Kenya. (Amnesty International Report, p. 7) Retrieved from Amnesty International website: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR32/006/2010

4. WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme. Disparities in Coverage.  (WHO/UNICEF Report, p. 21) Retrieved from the World Health Organization Website: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/monitoring/jmp04_4.pdf.

5. Lopez-Quintero, C., Freeman. P., & Neumark, Y. (2009). Hand Washing Among School Children in Bogotá, Colombia. American Journal of Public Health. 99(1), 94-101.

6. Narayan, D. (1993). Participatory evaluation: tools for managing change in water and sanitation. (World Bank Technical Paper No. 207) Retrieved from: http://www.bvsde.paho.org/bvsarg/i/fulltext/partici/partici.pdf

7. Blanton, E. (2010). Evaluation of the Role of School Children in the Promotion of Point-of-Use Water Treatment and Handwashing in Schools and Households—Nyanza Province, Western Kenya, 2007.  American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.  82(4), 664-671.

8. CARE (2012). Walk in Susan’s Shoes. Retrieved from CARE website: http://blog.care.org.au/walk-in-susans-shoes/

9. WaterAid (2012). Empowering women and girls: how water, sanitation and hygiene deliver gender equality. Retrieved from: http://www.wateraid.org/~/media/Publications/empowering-women-girls-water-sanitation-hygiene-gender-equality.ashx

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