When we think of water pollution, first and foremost we likely think of the health of those who lack access to clean water, which is understandable since it is the most dangerous result of pollution and top priority to solve. However, we may not always stop to think about how the lack of access to clean water affects many aspects of people’s lives and disproportionately burdens certain groups of people due to cultural norms.
In many impoverished countries where water pollution is an issue, women and children (usually girls) are responsible for gathering water for their families, often having to travel great distances to do so. UNICEF estimates that throughout the world, women and girls spend 200 million hours each day and 40 billion hours every year collecting water. In sub-Saharan Africa, a roundtrip is around 33 minutes on average in rural areas and 25 minutes in urban areas. In Asia, the lengths of the trips are 21 minutes and 19 minutes.
For women, this means they have less time to spend with family, growing food, and earning money, making it even more difficult for them to escape poverty. For children this can prevent them from attending school altogether, and since it is mostly girls, contributes to the gender gap in education. The need for such long transportation and storage of water also increases its chances of becoming contaminated somewhere along the line, putting everyone at risk.
Easier access to clean water nearby would not only help people’s health, but their overall wellbeing, allowing women to have more freedom to pursue other goals and young girls to continue their education. Organizations like water.org and WaterAid are working on just that, including women and empowering them in the process of establishing their own safe water sources at home, helping to advance the causes of both clean water and gender equality.