Unlocking The Hidden Value of Integrating Women’s Empowerment Through WASH to Achieve Community Economic Transformation and Resilience

As water related issues have emerged at the forefront of climate related effects, this year’s World Water Week theme of Seeing The Unseen: The Value of Water very timeously draws attention to the far-reaching consequences underscoring global water challenges.

The impact on water challenged regions often extends far beyond the familiar floods, droughts, and diseases. Although these are primary concerns, inadequate access to clean and safe water exacerbates unseen conditions caused by water insecurity.

Without proper access to water, communities face obstacles and hindrances to education, economic development, and improved livelihoods – all of which require clean water access to function efficiently.

As indicated in the Ripple Effect Study and elucidated by the United Nations, this is particularly true for women and girls where the burden of responsibility for collecting water weighs heavily, impacting school attendance, and limiting opportunities to generate a sustainable income. 

When the layers of impact are peeled back in water challenged environments, we discover that women and girls are the hardest hit by a complexity of socio-economic issues emanating from challenges that extend beyond water access. Solutions that target the most immediate water needs, whilst simultaneously addressing the cascading effects, lay a firmer foundation over the long-term for economic transformation and resilience in water scarce communities.

In alignment with one of World Water Week’s key perspectives – People and Development , Global Water Challenge, in partnership with The Starbucks Foundation, has developed community and women empowering water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs in Kenya and Tanzania’s coffee-and-tea growing communities. These programs aim to address the broader and unseen effects found in water scarce communities.

The project initiatives, supported regionally by Amref Health Africa, are empowering women in communities in Kenya and Tanzania, through infrastructural development which includes the construction of clean water access pipeline extensions, water kiosks, training in WASH facility construction, and the promotion of sustained behavior change in proper WASH practices. In tandem with this, women are receiving entrepreneurial skills development training to enable them to fully leverage the improved water resources facilitated by the project.

Through the project’s interventions, community members in Kenya and Tanzania can look forward to improved health benefits from better access to clean water. From the safe water provisions that a mother in Tanzania will now be able to rely on for her households’ daily needs, to the schoolgirl in Kenya whose school career will suffer less disruption now that more sanitary conditions will be available in the school environment – the broader impact of clean water will be experienced in every aspect for these women and girls, directly contributing to their improved livelihoods.  

When an investment into safe and accessible water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure is made in water scarce communities, the improvement in basic living conditions has a profound effect on women and girls, which then builds into broader community resilienceCommunities are transformed when females have better access to safe water.

“Delivering WASH services addresses the most basic human needs, however real transformative change, with sustainable impact, comes when these interventions are implemented alongside substantive plans that address gender inequality and promote women’s empowerment,” said Monica Ellis, CEO of Global Water Challenge.

“Working with Amref Health Africa and supported by The Starbucks Foundation, our East Africa programs are geared towards creating healthier environments through the development of infrastructure that provides better access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Significantly, our projects also prioritize building greater community resilience through entrepreneurial & financial literacy training and economic development opportunities for small-scale women coffee farmers”, said Monica Ellis.

For Mary, a small-scale coffee farmer who lives in a village in the Eastern Province of Kenya, recently upgraded water and sanitation facilities have changed her quality of life. Mary and her family have better access to clean water and sanitation infrastructure, and through community education programs initiated through the project are practicing the WASH protocols she received through training. She has been able to impart this knowledge to her family members, contributing immensely to their health and well-being in the future.  

Zuwena, a single mom from South-Western Tanzania, used to travel long distances to access clean water. Following the project’s development of water infrastructure closer to her home, and entrepreneurial & financial literacy training she received, Zuwena has been able to devote her time to building her own small business. She now owns a hair salon, transforming her ability to provide for herself and her child.

Through the project’s partnerships and working closely with our project’s communities, women and girls can look forward to opportunities that extend outside the parameters of basic water access.

“The issues obstructing tangible development are complex, interwoven with effects of water scarcity and socio-economic inequalities that affect women disproportionately”, said Monica Ellis, CEO of Global Water Challenge. “Consequently, interventions in water challenged environments require a multi-tiered approach to ensure they not only address the immediate water emergencies, but also the associated human impacts impeding people and development”.

“This World Water Week we celebrate our commitment to fulfilling this. Through our partnership with The Starbucks Foundation, we are implementing programs that deliver concrete water access solutions, with sustainable human impact over the long-term for coffee-and tea-growing communities in East Africa,” concluded Monica Ellis.