WASH – A Crisis!
“Water, water everywhere not a drop to drink”, we all have heard this phrase quite often. Humans cannot survive without clean water for more than three days. The world today faces a major crisis, a severe water shortage. Today, two billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services and 3.6 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services.
For women and girls, these challenges are disproportionately difficult, making it a significant hurdle for women in the world today. Safe water, sanitation, and hygiene go hand in hand, and one cannot be fully realized without the other. Together, the three are referred to as “WASH.”
Although water is comparatively easily available in urban areas, it is a scarce but necessary resource for people living in rural areas, especially women. Water enables women to maintain proper menstrual hygiene and sanitation, and without it, they are prone to many life-threatening diseases. While menstruating, women should take care of themselves, maintain proper hygiene and rest to compensate for the blood lost from their bodies. Instead, they are carrying heavy loads across long distances, coupled with limited or no access to adequate sanitation facilities. In rural areas, many women use reusable cloth pads. Without access to clean water, they end up washing this cloth with contaminated water, leading to a higher risk of infections such as urinary tract infections. Once a girl starts menstruating, lack of adequate water supply can even affect her schooling. More often than not, many girls stop going to school during their cycle, as lack of access to water and sanitary resources at school makes it challenging to get through an entire day of classes. Missing classes often eventually leads to many girls dropping out of school entirely, furthering the cycle of illiteracy and poverty.
For millennia, various societies have branded periods as unclean — or even toxic — and exploited these taboos to subjugate or isolate women. Millions of girls around the world skip school or drop out altogether when they have their periods. Throughout Africa, one in 10 girls misses school when they have their period, according to UNESCO. And in the UK, low-income girls routinely skip class because they cannot afford to buy menstrual hygiene products. Elsewhere in the world, women risk rape or death inside secluded menstruation huts.
Safe water access, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are the most basic building blocks for empowering women everywhere. Access to all three is a human right. The three go hand in hand; to truly solve the sanitation problem for women, you need all three. We still have a long way to go to solve the problem. Building clean and accessible toilets, safe drinking water, spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene, and more prudent measures should be taken in order to rectify this situation.