World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis.
One of my first experiences with global inequality was related to water. In a remote part of the Maasai Mara in Kenya, I met mothers and daughters who were obligated to make an arduous and long walk to the river, daily, to collect dirty water and carry it alone back to the homestead to prepare meals, bathe, clean, wash laundry, garden and nourish livestock. This story is not an anomaly. The world over, rural women and girls often bear the burden of collecting water for their families. Globally, it is estimated that women and girls collectively spend 200 million hours every day, or individually 6 hours a day, fetching water. In terms of distance, in Africa and Asia, it is estimated that girls and children walk an average 3.7 miles a day to fetch water.1 As a result, women and girls are at a higher risk of violence and health hazards due to isolation along rural routes, issues related to menstruation and women’s hygiene, along with heightened exposure to diseases found in unclean water.2
The gendered nature of fetching water leads to a deprivation of time; time that could be better spent at school, working and earning an income, with family or within the community. Time poverty – related to water collection and many other household chores – contributes to the inequality of women and girls, by robbing them of the opportunity to fully participate educationally, economically and socially in society.3
MEDA works with women around the world to understand and alleviate the pressures of time poverty. In Northern Ghana, the Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project works with women to improve sustainable food security for small holder farming families. GROW works to alleviate time poverty and conserve water through keyhole gardens.
A keyhole garden is a circular shaped garden with a compost basket built at the centre and a small depression towards the centre that allows for easy access to the basket and gives the garden a keyhole shape when viewed from above. These gardens retain moisture and nourish the soil, all while being built from locally available materials at a relatively low or no-cost. In the GROW project, keyhole gardens were utilized to extend the growing season for vegetables for increased nutrition and income generation from the sale of vegetables.4
The keyhole gardens improve women’s access to water because the women farmers utilized water barrels to increase the storage of water for gardening. For example, in the rural community of Zambogu, a woman involved in the project could now store eight times more water with a barrel than the basin she was previously using. This time saving technology provided her with greater freedom to fetch water at times that were more convenient for her.5
This simple technology empowered rural women with more agency over time, increased household nutrition and greater financial security. To achieve target 6.2 of the Sustainable Development Goal #6 of water and sanitation, “access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations,” must occur by 2030.6 On World Water Day, the importance of understanding women’s time poverty and resource management cannot be understated when working towards the empowerment of women and vulnerable populations.
- To learn more about MEDA's GROW project in Northern Ghana, visit our website and check out our latest publication on Market Actors involved in the project here.
- To learn more about keyhole gardens, read MEDA’s publication on How to Build a Keyhole Garden here.
- To learn more about World Water Day, visit the UN’s World Water Day website here. For 2017, the theme is wastewater and the campaign, ‘Why waste water?’ is about reducing and reusing wastewater. To learn more about wastewater, take a look at this factsheet on Wastewater and what you can do about it.
- UN Water. (2013). Water Factsheet.
- UN Water. (2015). Water for Women.
- SIDA. (2015). Women, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Brief.
- MEDA. (2016). How to Build a Keyhole Garden.
- MEDA. (2015). Women Owned Keyhole Gardens: An Opportunity to Strengthen Household Food Security in Northern Ghana.
- UN. (2017). Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all.