Today -March 8- is International Women’s Day.  The day has been celebrated for over 100 years, dating back to 1909 in New York City.  The United Nations (UN) started celebrating the day in 1977. This year’s theme of the UN International Women’s Day is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world on the way to the Generation Equality Forum.”  There is a concurrent rally for Generation Equality and a campaign theme #Choose to Challenge.      

What is the connection between women and water?  Millions and Millions of women want safe water.  This may seem like a strange thing to want, especially if you are like me and are used to safe water from your tap.  Let’s just say that you and I are taking it for granted – it’s safe to drink and we didn’t experience an unsafe environment to get our water.    

There is a water gender gap for women in the world.  According to the World Health Organization and UN, about 2.2 billion people (or 1 in 3) do not have access to safe drinking water. In low-income countries, women have the primary responsibility for collecting water for drinking, cooking, and bathing.  They may walk long distances to wait in line to collect water.  The water is not always safe to drink, so they and their families may be at risk for water-related diseases.  Time spent walking and waiting represents lost opportunities for education or an occupation.  And these walks leave women vulnerable to harassment and violence.  

Left: women collecting water in rural Ghana. Upper right: women waiting or water in Mauritania. Lower right: women walking with water, Niger.  Photos by A Lutz.

The water gender gap persists at multiple levels.  A World Bank report shows that women are underrepresented in the water utility workforce as compared with men.  On average, the water sector employs far more men than women; only 18% of all workers are female.  Women represent 23% of engineers and managers, and up to 32% of utilities had no female engineers or managers.  While the report acknowledges an improvement in the representation of women in the water sector the past few years, “the pace of change is far too slow, and there is significant work to be done if gender parity is to be achieved.”  

Here’s what you can do – raise awareness.  Follow these links to learn more. Today and every day challenge inequality, bias, stereotypes, and foster inclusivity.  Raise your hand and #ChooseToChallenge.