THE NEED FOR IMPROVED WATER, SANITATION AND HYGIENE (WASH) FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS
Access to safe water, adequate sanitation facilities and hygiene promotion as a basic human right plays an integral role in improving the health and productivity of a community. The Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6): Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water for all, is a precursor for achieving other SDG goals. With water being at the foundation of all human activities, it is ultimately impossible to achieve the desired outcome of the SDGs if Water, sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) needs for women and girls are not addressed and made a priority.
In recent times, there have been significant investments to progress WASH status globally. However, according to a report by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, about 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water at home, more than twice as many lack safe sanitation in 2017. This consequently resulted in an unacceptably high WASH-related burden of diseases. Furthermore, it stresses the need to relentlessly scale up efforts in improving access to safe water, adequate sanitation facilities and proper hygiene practices most especially for vulnerable groups, particularly women and girls who most times have the primary responsibility for the management of household water supply.
Limited access and unavailability of safe water and sanitation facilities has an adverse effect on the health and productivity of women and girls, resulting in reduced involvement in productive endeavours, empowerment activities and leisure for women who use time meant for these activities to source for potable water. Absenteeism and school dropout rates also increase among young girls who would rather stay home because their schools are not adequately equipped with proper WASH facilities to ensure privacy and hygiene.
The socio and economic ripple effect resulting from poor access to safe water and adequate sanitation facilities not only has a negative impact on an individual but are likely to have a more significant impact on the country’s economic growth. Increased investment in water and sanitation facilities for women and girls leads to various economic benefits. It contributes significantly to better health, economic growth and poverty alleviation, resulting in a considerable boost to the country’s overall growth. It leads to significant health benefits and therefore, reduces the financial burden on health systems, especially in developing countries. Provision of adequate water and separate facilities for girls in schools is essential to ensure hygiene and privacy and helps reduce absenteeism and dropout rates.
Access to WASH facilities creates room for active participation in economic endeavours and plays a major role in increasing productivity in developing countries, with the potential for raising household income and economic growth.
Several programs in Nigeria have championed efforts towards educating women and girls on WASH practices, and advocacy for improved drinking water sources and sanitation facilities. The Clean Water Initiative by HACEY Health Initiative, with support from Aspire Coronation Trust Foundation, is a great example of a program that understands the need for safe water, sanitation and hygiene for women and girls, especially in underserved communities. Over the years, the program has worked towards ensuring access to safe water. As women and girls bear the responsibility of collecting water in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in rural areas, the Clean Water Initiative has sought to reduce this burden by installing boreholes in over 42 rural communities across south-west Nigeria to allow more time and opportunities for the girl child. Through the program, women and girls have also been trained on household water treatment and safe water storage to reduce the transmission of water-borne diseases, with girls in secondary schools sensitized on the importance of proper handwashing practices to their health and well-being.