March is a special month for honoring women’s achievements and raising awareness about the global water challenges. In this blogpost, I want to talk about the importance of clean, safe, affordable water, particularly for women and children.
Water is essential for life, health, dignity, and prosperity. Yet, many people lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation services. According to WHO/UNICEF, 2 billion people worldwide in 2020 did not have safely managed drinking water sources. 3.6 billion people in 2020 did not have safely managed sanitation facilities. This means that they are exposed to various health risks such as diarrheal diseases, cholera, typhoid fever, hepatitis A and E, polio and neglected tropical diseases. In a recent article published in The Lancet Global Health, my co-authors and I argue that safe water and sanitation are not only essential for health and well-being, but also a human right for all people, regardless of where they live or how much they earn.
The lack of safe water and sanitation disproportionately affects women and girls, who often bear the primary responsibility for collecting water for their households. This can take hours every day, limiting their time for education, work or leisure activities. It can also expose them to violence or harassment along the way. Moreover, inadequate water and sanitation facilities can make it difficult for women and girls to manage their menstrual hygiene with dignity and privacy.
While many often think of water insecurity as an issue primarily in low- or middle-income countries, researchers estimate that over 1 million people in the United States have insecure water access – with nearly half of this population living in the 50 largest metropolitan areas of the country. Renters, people with unstable housing, low-income households, and households headed people of color were more likely to bear the burden of inadequate access to plumbing – even in major cities. To address these challenges, we need to accelerate change at all levels: from individual actions to collective commitments; from local solutions to global policies; from technical innovations to social transformations. We need to value water not only as a resource but also as a human right; not only as a commodity but also as a common good; not only as an environmental issue but also as a race, class, and gender issue.
As we recognize World Water Day – a day meant to highlight and accelerate progress toward achieving the basic human right to safe and affordable water and sanitation for all – let us all remember and honor the women in our lives who use and manage water every day in their homes, farms, businesses, schools, places of worship, and healthcare centers. They are all agents of change who deserve our respect, support, and recognition.
If you would like to advocate for safe water in your community, there are actions you can take right now. You can:
- Join or support organizations that work to protect and improve water quality and equity, such as We the People Detroit.
- Contact your state and local officials urging the prioritized allocation of infrastructure investments for to communities most in need, ensuring universal access to safe and affordable water.
- Educate yourself and others about the types, sources, and impacts of water contamination in their communities. Learn about community-centered and proposed solutions.
- Participate in local water quality monitoring, reporting, and advocacy efforts. Contact your drinking water provider about opportunities to test your tap water for lead or other contaminants. Look for opportunities to participate in efforts to hold drinking water systems accountable for providing safe, affordable water.
- Reduce your water consumption and pollution by adopting water-efficient practices at home, such as installing low-flow fixtures, fixing leaks, using rain barrels or native plants for landscaping (where allowed), avoiding pesticides or fertilizers on lawns or gardens, and disposing of hazardous waste properly.