Water Accessibility and Gender Inequality
by Alix Greenblatt
Climate change has an affect on multiple areas; ocean level temperatures rising, greenhouse gas emissions, and the accessibility to clean water/sanitation. Clean water/sanitation accessibility has been a current issue, especially for women around the world. The role of collecting drinking water for a town or tribe was, and still is, a role held by women and girls. Women can spend up to five hours walking every day to collect water. Due to the length of travel and water collection, a lot of girls, especially young girls, are prevented from attending school which ultimately hinders the ability to receive an education.
The lack of education does not just keep girls from learning general education but health/sexual reproductive education as well. These classes teach girls about topics like safe sex, pregnancy, and other important health topics that girls should learn. Without them, girls can become more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, unexpected pregnancies, and possibly unsafe abortions. The responsibility of water collection, and most other “household” chores are not given to boys, so most of them have an easier time going to school and receiving a full education.
Alongside the time constraint that collecting water has, the lack of adequate private toilets and clean water to wash hands in a school or workplace is another risk for women/girls. This becomes a barrier for girls and women during their menstruation cycles, leading them to miss school once a month, or dropping out altogether. In India (as of 2017), around 23% of girls would drop out of school once they started menstruating. In Nepal, the numbers were around 41%.
In developed and developing nations, the role of a woman or girl is often seen as a household, or homely, role. The responsibility of dealing with used/dirty water is often left to them as women/girls are often left at home to take care of the home and possibly young children. This leads to women and girls in this position becoming more at risk for disease due to pathogens as a result of wastewater exposure. UNICEF and the WHO have reported that around a million deaths each year are associated with unclean births. As of 2019, these developed infections account for 26% of neonatal deaths and around 11% of maternal mortality.
The answer to ending gender inequality in the realm of clean water accessibility is not an easy one, but it can be achieved. One of the most important things a person can do to bring awareness to this issue is to educate and spread the message. Gender inequality stems from stigma, and to end stigma we need to educate ourselves and others about its harm.
Alix Greenblatt is currently working for the CDC Foundation/NYSDOH as a facility surveyor in long-term care. She is also working on finishing her MPH program at the University at Albany with a certificate in Global Health. Her goals are to one day work toward improving health rights for women and to work toward ending the stigma behind mental illness. She enjoys baking and music.
February 2023 page 11