Poor service delivery costs women, girls

HARARE - As the water crisis seems to have no possible solution in sight and rationing regimes have been introduced in cities and towns across the country, women and girls are most affected due to gender roles placed on them by society and culture.

Care giving, a role mostly given to women has become a burden as most females bear the brunt of ensuring that their households have adequate water.

Harare City Council (HCC)’s water rationing regime can see suburbs going for up to three days without water, forcing women and girls to go to boreholes.

At boreholes spread around Harare, most of the people in queues are women and girls — with the only option being to dig shallow wells often with dirty or contaminated water.

According to the World Health Organisation, for every $1 spent on water and sanitation there is a $4 economic return.

Tag a Life International (TaLI) director Nyaradzo Mashayamombe said women and girls always bear the brunt of poor service delivery as duties of collecting water are always delegated to them.

She said it does not always have to be the idea. However, the social setup is that such roles are left for women to take care while sidelining them from more productive duties.

Mashayamombe said these girls and women have to carry large loads of water on their heads which impacts negatively on their physical health.

“They get overburdened by physically-charged chores such as these. For girls, it is worse because they are vulnerable to being taken advantage of if they cannot help themselves to fetch the water and carry it,” she said.

“We have cases reported to TaLI where girls have been sexually assaulted while they were fetching water because the men isolate the girls from others and rape them in the name of help. These multi-faceted challenges that girls and women endure when service delivery is weak are very socially, physically and economically draining.”

The TaLI director also said such non-developmental duties also push women away from taking up positions in politics and other decision-making aspects.

“Women and girls are excluded from key decision-making agendas and this is not good for the development of any nation. Men end up deciding for them from an uninformed position,” Mashayamombe said.

Plan International communications manager Angela Machonesa told the Daily News on Sunday that lack of and inadequate access to water deepens and reinforces gender inequality and intense gender disparities.

She said time taken in search of water reduces time to rest for women and pursue other productive endeavours such as education and self-empowerment.

Machonesa added that it also reduces their time to concentrate on their health and care giving to infants.

“Convenient access to water and sanitation facilities increases privacy and dignity to women and reduces risk of sexual harassment or assault while gathering water.

“Inadequate access to water in a household is a source of shame for a woman yet time taken in doing such economically enhancing chores is not paid nor appreciated.”

“It is normalised as should do, but time that girls are spending at boreholes could be used to build their technological and other life skills.

“Menstruating women and girls have a deeper burden when there are water shortages.

Many girls have dropped out of school due to monthly absenteeism in moments of menstruation as many school latrines have no constant water supply,” she said.

The child rights activist also said girls who mess themselves while menstruating end up loathing school and dropping out completely because of the shame.

Machonesa said lack of water also poses a health risk to women as they are more prone to infections caused by limited or contaminated bath water.

Combined Harare Residents Association (Chra) programmes manager Lorraine Mupasiri said the impact of water shortages on women is at different stages but due to gender and cultural roles and practices they are affected more.

She said because women and men are physically different, women require a constant supply of clean water during pregnancy for drinking and for personal hygiene.

Mupasiri said in areas that go for long periods of time without water like Mabvuku, women and girls have to wake up very early in the morning to fetch water.

“When the time for them to leave for work or school comes, they are often very tired and may end up missing out on productive activities. Also local authorities particularly HCC does not consider the gender dynamics in their budgeting,” Mupasiri said.

Freedrinkingwater.com claims that while it is not fully known what causes cervical cancer, the contaminants found in polluted water are known to have an effect on the DNA of reproducing cells.

According to a report by the World Water Assessment Programme of Unesco and other aid agencies and organisations, water is not only a matter of life and death, but also about sanitation and economic empowerment.

The report titled “Every woman counts. Every second counts; Water for Women”, indicates that women represent 40 percent of the global labour force, yet in Sub-Saharan Africa 40 billion working hours (equivalent to a year’s worth of labour for the entire workforce in France) are lost every year to water collection.

“Can you imagine preparing to give birth and having to factor in time to get a jerry can of dirty water from a nearby river because the clinic has no safe water supply? One in five new-borns die because they were washed in dirty water, in environments with poor sanitation and hygiene.”

“With no safe water or sanitation at home, at school, in clinics or workplaces, women can be condemned to a lifelong battle of wasted time and opportunity, of drudgery, disease and indignity, magnified even further as the mind and body ages,” the report said.

The report also shows that while one in four girls does not complete primary school, a 15 percent increase is realised when provided with clean water and a toilet facility, given girls no longer have to fetch water every day.

Research carried out in Limpopo, South Africa showed that women who carried loads of up to 19,5 kilogrammes on their heads had a 69 percent chance of having spinal pain and 3 percent back pain.

Comments (2)

Some one in the City of Harare told me that there is no the water shortage in the dams but chemicals to treat the water. is it true?

dankay - 7 November 2016

Why is there no chemicals to treat the water because there is looting somewhere

Waterborne - 7 November 2016

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