The issue of water and sanitation is of utmost importance given the place of women in African society. It illustrates how African women suffer from inequality, particularly when it comes to access to education.
In an African context, drawing water, transportation, storage and use, and cleanliness of public and private facilities are mostly the responsibility of women. Therefore, the scarcity of water and insufficient water supply equipment greatly affect the schooling of young girls and the education of women.
Indeed, in some rural regions, women and girls are obliged to trek up to 15 kilometres every day to fetch water. In urban areas, the lack of water fountains results in long waiting lines lasting hours and very often resulting in social conflicts.
Lack of latrines at school: another reason girls drop out
Even when girls attend school, the lack of sanitation facilities available is another reason a high number of girls drop out of school when they reach the age of puberty.
Drinking water and sanitation projects, especially in rural areas, contribute to the reduction of water-related chores and provide women and girls the opportunity to engage in other educational and income-generating activities, while creating the conditions for a healthy environment. These projects, therefore, directly address the protection of women’s rights.
Given the role of African women in the continent’s socio-economic development, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has always taken the gender dimension into consideration in its projects. Thus, the priorities of the Bank’s Water and Sanitation Department (OWAS) integrate the gender issue in the design of the Bank’s programs and projects. In addition to the institution’s Gender Policy, which was approved in 2001, the AfDB has drawn up a Gender Integration Plan in all its projects. As such, all drinking water and sanitation programs financed by the Bank incorporate the gender dimension, from the preparation stage through to completion.
Cooperation essential in the financing and management of water resources
Cooperation is a key factor both in the financing of water and sanitation projects and programs as well as in the management of this precious resource. The Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative, launched by the Bank in 2003 in partnership with other donors, has already provided drinking water to 51 million people and access to sanitation facilities for 34 million people, of whom 50 per cent are women.
For women and girls, the benefits of such measures are multiple: i) a higher rate of school attendance; ii) improved access to education and training; iii) better representation by women in decision-making committees for water points and public latrines; iv) improved health; v) a notable decrease in acts of violence and aggression against women who fetch water from long distances; vi) improved economic status thanks to a reduction in health expenses relating to water-borne diseases and a greater participation in income-generating activities.
In spite of all these achievements, much remains to be done to recognize water as the true catalyst it is in transforming the current cultural and social order into one in which the rights of African women are fully ensured.
For this to happen, cooperation needs to be strengthened between institutions to better manage this resource in order to contribute to the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment faced primarily by women and children.