WASH and Women and Girls


Women and children are disproportionately affected by lack of water, sanitation and hygiene and shoulder the largest burden in collecting drinking water. When the needs of women and children are not taken into account, the negative effects will be felt across various sectors, including health and education.            

The Challenge

In Africa and Asia, women and girls spend much of their time collecting and transporting water for their families – on average walking six kilometers daily.[1] It is not unusual for women and girls to spend up to six hours daily collecting water, time that could be put on income generating activities, housework, or childcare.[2] Furthermore, girls miss going to school or drop out altogether due to amount of time it takes to collect water.

In terms of lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene, the adverse effects are numerous as well. When latrines are not available in the house, 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, lack of single-gender sanitation facilities in schools result 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, students will not use school facilities, resulting in absenteeism 10-20 percent of the time.[5]


Empowering women to assure safe water, sanitation, and hygiene has proven to be a sustainable solution and gives communities a chance to reap the health, economic and educational benefits. Women reinvest on average 90 percent of income generated in their families.[6] Therefore, WASH projects with positive direct or indirect 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.[7]

Additionally, WASH in schools improves the lives of schoolchildren by significantly reducing disease, increasing school attendance[8] and learning achievements, and contributing to dignity and gender equality.

Many organizations are including women, both in their decision-making process and in goal-setting to empower women and girls through WASH. In Zimbabwe, CARE created borehole committees that included women, and allowed women to include and promote the concerns of the women in the community in the construction and maintenance of water points. Through the Linking and Learning project, CARE empowered women to make decisions about new water reservoirs, significantly decreasing the time spent waiting in line to collect water.[9]

In Uganda, WaterAid taught women to build rainwater harvesting jars for the community, freeing up time spent collecting water and allowing the women to become leaders in sanitation and hygiene in their communities. Elsewhere in Uganda, WaterAid constructed single-gender sanitation facilities at a school with washrooms to manage menstruation. Attendance at the school by girls has increased since the construction of the sanitation facilities.[10]

For more information, contact Rebecca Fishman, 202-293-4003202-293-4002, rfishman@WASHadvocates.org

[1] United Nations OHCHR/UN-HABITAT/ WHO, 2010. The Right to Water, Fact Sheet No. 35. http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet35en.pdf.

[2] Lenton, R., et al., 2005. Health, Dignity, and Development: What Will it Take? 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. http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR32/006/2010.

[4] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme. Disparities in Coveragehttp://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/monitoring/jmp04_4.pdf.

[5]  IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, 2005.

School Sanitation and Hygiene Notes & News May 2005. http://www.irc.nl/page/22824.

[6] World Bank, 2009. Adolescent Girls in Focus at the World Economic Forum. http://go.worldbank.org/QWPUUOPVY0.

[7] Narayan, D., 1993. Participatory evaluation: tools for managing change in water and sanitation. http://www.bvsde.paho.org/bvsarg/i/fulltext/partici/partici.pdf.

[8] Blanton, Elizabeth et al 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. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20348516.

[9] CARE. Stories. http://care.ca/get-involved/walk-in-her-shoes/stories.

[10] WaterAid, 2012. Empowering women and girls: how water, sanitation and hygiene deliver gender equality. http://www.wateraid.org/~/media/Publications/empowering-women-girls-water-sanitation-hygiene-gender-equality.ashx.

WASH Advocates | 1506 21st Street NW, Suite 200 Washington DC 20036 | 202-293-4002 | info@WASHadvocates.org