Innovations Providing Clean and Accessible Water Offer Opportunities for Women in Kenya

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NAIROBI — In sub-Saharan Africa, water is women’s work. Altogether, women in these countries spend 16 million hours a day collecting water for their households. NGOs World Vision and the Global Women’s Water Initiative are introducing structures that provide clean and accessible water for women and their villages in Kenya.Al-Jazeera’s documentary, “Kenya’s Water Women”, which recently won the New York Festivals Best TV and Film Award for Social Issues, features the work of the Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI) in the village of Sisokhe in western Kenya.

Al-Jazeera’s documentary, “Kenya’s Water Women”, which recently won the New York Festival Best TV and Film Award for Social Issues, features the work of the Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI) in the village of Sisokhe in western Kenya.

The women of rural Kenya, far more than the men, are impacted by the lack of a nearby clean and accessible water source. The women have to walk long distances to reach the water, taking time away from other important tasks. They can develop back problems and headaches from carrying up to 20 kilograms of water for hours at a time. Girls are often forced to quit school because their families need them to fetch water.

Unclean water also causes particularly serious problems for women. Forty-three percent of the population of Kenya drinks water that is contaminated with E. coli or other bacteria. If a child becomes ill, it is the woman in the household who must transport that child to a hospital. A lack of clean and accessible water can also be life-threatening for a woman expecting a baby; in 2015, Kenya was listed as one of the ten most dangerous countries for pregnant women.

The GWWI Water Leadership Academy offers a four-year program that teaches women masonry and bricklaying, as well as leadership and business skills. The women learn to build rainwater harvesting systems, latrines and water storage tanks for their villages. They then pass on the knowledge to other women. GWWI has trained 175 women in East Africa to become water tank masons.

Placing women in charge of a village’s water supply is a crucial means of empowerment. According to the documentary, African tradition does not allow women to take any action without the support of the men. The water tanks, however, give the women an entry into the economy. With the profits made from selling the water, the women in Sisokhe were able to open their village’s only service account. The money is loaned out, it grows, and some is invested into other projects.

After a water tank was installed at the local clinic, along with biosand filters to improve the water’s quality, the clinic was able to deliver more than 300 babies per month. The clean and accessible water decreased the number of infant deaths by 23 percent. With the money it saved, the clinic was able to afford electricity and more delivery beds.

GWWI projects have also increased opportunities for women to get an education. The water tanks in Sisokhe freed up an extra six hours daily for girl students to study or do work. Installing several biofilters in a primary school in Kenya eliminated typhoid outbreaks. In a school in Uganda, a rainwater harvesting system and a cleaning bath enable girls to continue attending classes even during their menstrual period.

In drier climates, rainwater harvesting systems cannot provide enough clean drinking and bathing water for a village. In Kilifi County in southern Kenya, World Vision has constructed a 52-mile pipeline that leads from storage tanks and from the river to the village. This has become especially important in the face of the two-year drought that has recently affected the region.
After the pipeline was installed, the girls had time to focus on school, and the women were able to grow vegetable gardens.

World Vision also installed water points, taps where villagers can come to purchase water. Like in Sisokhe, the women are in charge of the finances. Profits are turned into loans for women who need help paying for their children’s education or invested in new businesses, like tree nurseries.

World Vision is working in 15 out of the 23 counties most impacted by the drought. The Christian NGO is also teaching communities how to use chlorine making machines. The chlorine solution will allow them to disinfect the water they use for cooking, bathing and household chores.
Successful water projects have a return of $4 for every $1 invested, and improved sanitation has the power to increase global GDP by 1.5 percent.

As the women and their communities continue to pass on their knowledge, the ripple effect of clean water technologies will become the wave of a better future.

Emilia Otte
Photo: Flickr

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Emilia Otte

Emilia lives in Poughkeepsie, NY. Her academic interests include English and Italian. Emilia use to row Varsity Crew in high school.

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