How Access to Safe Water can Empower Girls

Aug 25, 2011


Hope Randall
Communications Officer, DefeatDD

Reposted with permission from End the Neglect


In my work to raise awareness about the global burden of diarrheal disease, I read a lot about the many benefits of safe water and sanitation, including the promise it holds for girls and women. But whenever I think about its impact, I don't think of a specific report or news article. I think about a timid, obedient girl I met in a tiny village in Western Kenya. She moved carefully in a bright green dress as she demonstrated how she gathers water for her family from a contaminated spring. I could tell she'd been doing it for a long time, as she skimmed the surface of the water with the bottom of her bright yellow container in a sincere, yet unsuccessful, attempt to clear the debris.


My heart ached as I watched her. I could see her life play out as I heard it in those reports and news articles, with heart-breaking predictability. Too many girls just like her sacrifice so much - their education, their safety, and endless hours of time - in a constant pursuit of water that may not even be safe to drink. Some estimates from Ethiopia predict that a girl can spend up to 8 hours - an entire workday - on solitary walks to remote water sources, making education impossible. In communities that are fortunate enough to have a safe water source close by, girls' education and safety still suffers when there are no sanitation facilities at school. A study in Rwanda showed that about a third of girls chose not to attend school during their menstrual cycle because they were spied on or laughed at by boys.


I can't help but contrast these experiences with my own, growing up in the United States. Can you imagine girls in the United States unable to attend school during their periods? Can you imagine them sacrificing their education and safety in an endless pursuit of water?

It's easy to see how a lack of these basic needs follow women throughout their lives, making it nearly impossible for them to lift themselves out of poverty. The picture may seem grim, but instead of feeling overwhelmed, I am inspired by the opportunity this represents. It is stunning to think that the simplest solutions - wells and toilets - are game changers for women. They bring with them not only health, but also safety, equal opportunity, and maybe even more peaceful communities and nations.


It is wonderful to see efforts like World Water Day (March 22) working to ensure these basic necessities get the attention they deserve. They are among the best investments that advocates for women's empowerment can make. As the Girl Effect puts it, change starts with a girl. Safe water allows her to work her magic.


And in case you were wondering about the timid girl in the green dress, her village now has a protected water source. I hope it brings her one step closer to the life she deserves.


-- Hope Randall, Communications Associate for defeatDD at PATH


For more information:

-- Learn why clean water and safe sanitation are so crucial to defeating DD.

-- Health and water are important co-conspirators, and the Health/WASH network is gleaning the best from both worlds.