Water sources are often far from the village, and women must walk for hours to fetch water daily. Some families even keep their daughters at home so that they can help collect water. Instead of going to school, these girls follow their mothers and walk, on average, at least 10 miles every day (source). While walking to get water, particularly when they must walk alone before or after daylight hours, women are vulnerable to rape and other violent attacks.
The journey also requires them to carry buckets of water weighing over 40 pounds on their heads (source). Carrying such a heavy load over long distances has detrimental health effects, including back and chest pains, developmental deformities, arthritic disease, and miscarriages.
Drinking the water in Sub-Saharan Africa is often just as hazardous as retrieving it. Women are not only at risk of sickness themselves, but are also responsible for taking care of family members who fall ill after drinking contaminated water. Furthermore, they may then have to take on the labor of the sick family member, on top of their own labor, while they nurse their loved ones back to health (source).
Just as women and girls in Africa shoulder a disproportionate amount of the world’s water burden, they also stand the most to gain from clean water projects. Voss Foundation projects benefit women immensely, for example:
- EDUCATION: Direct access to clean water eliminates the need to keep girls at home to fetch water. As a result, more girls from all of our project sites have the opportunity to go to school and receive an education. Our well in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the only source of water for the Georges Malaika Foundation‘s School for Girls, the first in the region. According to the World Bank, each year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent.
- EMPOWERMENT: In each one of our water projects, women gain political power through membership in water management committees, which we make sure are composed of at least 50% women.
- HEALTH: In Swari, Kenya, the Voss Foundation reduced the distance to the nearest water source from over three miles to approximately half a mile. Collecting water is no longer a laborious and dangerous task. Women also benefit from greater access to health services, since the local government was able to build a clinic and new maternity wing in Swari thanks to the clean water provided by Voss Foundation.
- ECONOMY: One of our five wells in Pel, Mali is at a garden owned by a local women’s cooperative. With less time devoted to getting water, women have more time to pursue their own education and to improve their economic situation. We’ve helped these women grow healthy produce that has effectively doubled their income.
By providing whole communities with access to clean water, the Voss Foundation has been able to empower women in Sub-Saharan Africa to improve their own lives.
Girls with higher levels of education marry later, have smaller families, survive childbirth at higher rates, experience reduced incidences of HIV/AIDS, have children more likely to survive to age five and earn more money. –MacArthur Foundation president Robert Gallucci, Huffington Post, 2012
Through our Women Helping Women campaigns around the world we make this connection direct, between female donors and beneficiaries. We have brought some of the women donors to meet the women whose lives they have affected with access to clean water, which is ultimately a life-altering experience for all. (See photos from our Women Helping Women trips to Swari and Ndonyo Nasipa.)
Learn more about our Women Helping Women efforts and consider joining us this year!