Clean water is a human right, but for who?

By Renata Koch Alvarenga, Director of EmpoderaClima

NOTE: Each month of the year, up until COP25 in December, EmpoderaClima will launch a fresh and original article about one theme related to women and gender equality. For general information about the relation between climate action and female empowerment, check out our first article, published on Earth Day. Stay tuned for future opportunities to write your own original articles for EmpoderaClima!

Water is a crucial natural resource of Planet Earth, and it is also a human right - according to the 2010 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 64/292, which recognizes the importance of clean drinking water and sanitation for the fulfilment of human rights. Naturally, all human beings should have equal and universal access to water, but the reality is a bit far from that.

When it comes to women's relationship with water, especially in light of climate change, their role and their vulnerability are very different in comparison to men. During a situation of water crisis, mainly in developing countries and rural areas, women are responsible for securing this precious resource for their families, which results in serious challenges, such as walking extremely long distances in search of clean water, facing insecurities due to sexual harassment, as well as to the dangerous effects of environmental disasters.

According to, women globally spend a total of 200 million hours per day finding and collecting water. In regions of the Global South, including Africa and Asia, women have to walk about 6 kilometers to collect water for their families. As many women in the developing world are too busy looking for clean water during the day, they are not able to go to school or work, limiting their choices in terms of fulfilling their potential and developing skills for their personal and professional lives. Furthermore, women are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse and attack when walking to find water, which shows how the lack of water affects women's personal security as well.

Being responsible for collecting water implicates on the economic opportunities of women in poorer areas, as well as on their education and their health. Therefore, when discussing water as a human right, it is imperative that the problem is seen as a women's rights issue too. As already stated, females have to carry many gallons of water for miles through hours just to ensure that their families have water - which sometimes is not even clean, and has the potential to kill. Managing the household water supply may be a woman's job in many low-income countries, but the solutions are usually taken by men in positions of power.

Considering all of these present challenges in terms of women and water, many governments, international organizations and funds, as well as private companies, have taken the first step by implementing gender-sensitive policies to their work when it comes to water management. By placing the women who deal with this hardship of collecting water everyday - and especially in times of climate crises - in leadership roles amid decision-making processes, institutions can ensure that the best policies are being implemented, as they will have the input from those who suffer the most from the lack of water in poorer regions.

In order for women to be empowered, they need to have access to basic resources first, including safe water and toilets in their houses. Talking about the unique hardships that women face regarding water is an important step for achieving gender equality, and toward climate justice. So the next time you are writing a research paper, attending a conference or talking to friends about environmental issues, why not mention this issue? Awareness - a main pillar of the work done by EmpoderaClima - is the first step on the path to solving global challenges.

Spread the word about the importance of water for women. For men. For children. Everyone has a right to clean water and sanitation, and for that to actually happen, more people need to be talking about the disproportionate effect climate change has on women's lives - including access to safe drinking water.
Clean water and sanitation is Sustainable Development Goal 6, but the gender inequality in the access to drinking water also have impacts on SDGs 1, 3, 4 and 5. Want to be a part of achieving the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations? Start by sharing this article!