Development projects that bring clean and accessible drinking water to sub-Saharan African communities bring empowerment to women at both local and regional levels. Girls who might otherwise spend up to four hours a day walking to fetch water are free to spend that time in school. Women are suddenly granted more time to pursue income-generating activities, and more flexibility to apply for microcredit loans. These improvements are critical steps toward empowering women, promoting gender equality and increasing female self-sufficiency, which contribute to the overall social and economic stability of developing nations.
Niger is the second-worst place to be a mother – ahead of only Afghanistan – according to Save the Children’s annual State of the World’s Mothers report. The organization compares living conditions of mothers and children in 164 countries. Norway, Australia and New Zealand top the ranking this year as best countries for being a mother. Among the 10 bottom-ranked countries, eight are from Sub-Saharan Africa with Niger ranking the lowest in the region. Sub-Saharan Africa also accounts for 18 of the 20 lowest-ranking countries.
As the summer blockbusters debut, here are some movies on water and sanitation that you might want to catch and some from the recent past that you might remember.
Excerpts from remarks by Maria Otero, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. June 13, 2011
Around the world, women and girls in developing countries walk an average of 6 kilometers a day (3.75 miles) carrying 20 liters (or 42 pounds) of water—often in isolated, unsafe areas, putting them in harm’s way. In some areas, the journey takes more than 15 hours a week, making it difficult for girls to go to school. Less education means fewer economic opportunities for women, which in turn hurts the local economy. And thus the cycle continues.
Covering global systems and megatrends, the “Future of Water” virtual conference examined how different fields, sectors and stakeholders can meet the challenge of providing a growing global population with clean and sustainable water. 60 leading thinkers each spoke for one minute, conveying their perspectives and thoughts about what is needed to solve the clean water problem.
UCLA’s African Activist Association held a conference on May 21st, “Women Agency in Africa: Role, Motivation & Voice.” As a speaker, I was happy to have the opportunity to let African activists know about the dramatic impact of drilling a clean water well has on improving the lives of women. Not many people make that connection. We tend to assume that providing a well helps everyone in a community, and while it does, the positive impact on the lives of women and girls is so much more dramatic.
Two weeks ago I returned to the West African country of Niger—one of the three poorest countries in the world. I was there to take more photographs, gather more stories, and to accompany the father and 25-year-old brother of a remarkable 14-year-old girl, Kevin Kilroy. She had seen and read my book, WATER IS KEY that focuses on the issue of women, water, and wells. She read and saw the photos of the rural villagers who did not have safe water: the terrible health issues, the unnecessary deaths, and the absence of much hope. But she also saw what happens to a village when a bore hole well is drilled and brings the village clean, safe water: the general health of the villagers dramatically improves, women often become successful small entrepreneurs through micro credit loans that we give them, and girls go to school, sometimes for the first time in the history of the village.
Wells Bring Hope joined other ecologically-minded non-profits on the Santa Monica College campus for Earth Day on April 22. Students taking part in a “Treasure Hunt” had to walk from one end of the quad to the other carrying a 40 lb. can filled with water. They couldn’t believe how heavy it was and to do it for 4-6 miles as women in West Africa do every day was unimaginable. It was an eye-opener for them and a very painful one, realizing how women and girls suffer from the burden of getting water. They were so happy to learn that when a well is drilled, all that is ended and girls can go to school.
My journey began in January 2001. I was no longer Los Angeles County District Attorney. A month earlier, I had been the county’s chief law enforcement officer, now I was moving on but unsure of the direction. Life takes interesting detours when you least expect it.
It’s hard for Southern Californians to believe that an event they’ve planned–a walk in the Santa Monica Mountains for World Water Day–got rained out but that is exactly what happened. However, that didn’t stop us from having a fun and very successful event!