It’s a long while since women’s voices have been heard so audibly.
The Weinstein scandal and the subsequent Time’s Up movement have galvanised Hollywood, the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage has highlighted the sacrifices made by so many women to gain the right to vote; and major organisations are today being forced to own up to the shocking extent of gender inequality in relation to both pay and career opportunities.
As a woman, this International Women’s Day I want to #PressforProgress and speak up for those women whose voices continue not to be heard because they don’t have access to a basic human right: safe water and sanitation.
Women and girls bear the primary responsibility for collecting water for their families in many developing countries, and they are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to safe water. They undertake long and often dangerous journeys risking animal attack, abduction and rape to collect water which is dirty and can make them sick. The burden of carrying heavy water often leads to serious health issues, such as miscarriage during childbirth.
Safe water changes all of this. Firstly, health improves. By building wells, sand dams, rock catchments and water tanks within communities, Just a Drop reduces the distances women and girls have to walk to collect water, improving their safety, and freeing up time better spent on income generating activities such as growing crops and trading the excess. By supporting women’s groups with income-generating loans, Just a Drop supports the creation of small businesses. Women can begin to build brighter futures for themselves.
By building school rainwater harvesting tanks in schools, Just a Drop keeps girls healthy and hydrated. Girls no longer have to spend time fetching water and missing out on their education. By building gender-sensitive latrines and washrooms, we keep girls in school, as lack of suitable facilities during puberty, unspoken taboos and fear of humiliation causes girls to drop out – immediately impacting their life chances.
By delivering menstrual health education and training to girls, boys, teachers and their families, Just a Drop raises awareness and breaks down taboos and discrimination against girls, restoring their dignity, keeping them in school, furthering their education and giving them the best possible chance for a brighter future.
The battle for gender equality is a long one and a journey requiring two key commitments across society if we are to #PressforProgress and make real change – respect and education. But the critical pathway to this for many women and girls across the world, so their voices are heard, starts with access to the most basic of human needs: safe water and sanitation.
Fiona Jeffery OBE
Member UN World Ethics Committee
Founder Just a Drop