Throughout the world, women are intrinsically linked to water resources because of their roles and responsibilities in using and managing water. Since women and girls often cook, clean, farm, and provide health care and hygiene for their households, they are on the front lines of their communities’ and countries’ water issues. Global challenges like over-consumption,population growth, privatization and climate change all affect the quality and accessibility of water, and put a strain on limited freshwater systems.
Water scarcity and contamination disproportionately impact low-income women and girls. For many girls who must walk miles to access clean water, school is not a reality. Without a basic education or the ability to get a formal wage-earning job, many women become locked into a vicious cycle of poverty. This has a ripple effect that impacts communities and countries socially, economically and environmentally.
Inequitable Access to Limited Water
Growing populations coupled with unsustainable lifestyles in a consumption-driven world are increasingly impacting water shortages. Around the world, water stress, or the “economic, social, or environmental problems caused by unmet water needs,” is an ongoing issue. Women are most vulnerable because they often work in informal markets and do not have the resources to participate in competitive markets that are worsening water scarcity. Since women primarily manage water resources at the local level, women’s voices must be heard at national and international levels if global equity is to prevail in a water-scarce world.
Inequitable Access to Privatized Water
For developing countries, meeting the basic needs of water supply and sanitation is the most pressing water security issue. As water becomes increasingly scarce, governments are allowing market forces to privatize water in an effort to conserve water. Water privatization occurs when private companies take ownership of the production and distribution of water. Water prices usually skyrocket when it is privatized even if the service is poor, causing many impoverished families to use large portions of their income to pay for a basic right. Women are the first to experience negative impacts of water privatization because as managers of their households, they are often forced to purchase water and must forego other productive activities such as subsistence farming of cash crops that need irrigation.
Disproportionate Impacts from Climate Change
In the last century, excessive consumption coupled with unsustainable population growth has contributed to the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that are warming the earth’s climate, resulting in climate change. Climate change poses threats to human health through increased droughts and floods, and further reduces water
access and quality; in fact, according to experts, water will be the first resource impacted by climate change. Although climate change is largely caused by industrialized countries’ wasteful consumption patterns, it is the world’s poorest – women – who bear the brunt of the impact. Environmental crises negatively affect women on a daily basis because of their family obligations to obtain clean water for cooking, cleaning and farming. Environmental degradation not only decreases water resources but can also be a major contributor to severe climate change. Through deforestation – cutting and burning down forests for firewood – several tons of CO2 are released into the atmosphere, continuing the water scarcity cycle.
Disproportionate Impacts from Urban Water Conservation
In the last century, rapid population growth and expanding global economies have exacerbated fresh water demand. As a result, many water sources are contaminated; in developing countries 90-95% of all sewage and 70% of all industrial wastes contaminate surface water. As the primary collectors of water, women are the first to be exposed to water-borne diseases. This directly affects women’s health and reproductive health and often results in high infant mortality and birth defects.