Clean Water: A Simple Way to Increase Opportunity for Women and Girls

Co-authored by Bridget Moynahan, actress and Global Citizen Ambassador.

Taking a shower, boiling some vegetables or just getting a glass of water is as easy as turning on a faucet. But taking care of life's most basic necessities isn't so straightforward for so many around the world.

Millions of people in developing nations, particularly women and girls, make huge sacrifices in order to obtain the day's water supply for their families. Getting up extremely early to wait on delivery trucks, walking for hours to wells located miles away, or collecting and hauling water from a community tank all put an unfair burden on women and girls. reports that women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection in around 76 percent of households worldwide. Millions of women and children in the developing world spend hours each day collecting water from distant and often polluted sources, returning to their villages carrying 40-pound jerry cans on their backs.

The unfair burden of water retrieval placed on girls and women has significant implications for many reasons. First and foremost it takes up countless hours every day. Hours spent retrieving water often means that girls and women aren't able to spend time at an income-generating job, caring for family members, or going to school.

These conditions and responsibilities leave children hard-pressed to summon the energy, or find the time, for education or to do anything outside of their household duties. In his book The Big Thirst, Charles Fishman bleakly dubs this sort of existence, "..a kind of water slavery." He writes, "People are literally captive to the daily task of fetching water -- their ability to go to work, to send their children to school, to get a full night's sleep, to be healthy, all hostage to the schedule on which the water is available, and hostage also to the quality of that water." For no group is this truer than for girls and women who must accept the role of water collectors as part of their larger obligations to their households, obligations presumed more important than the girl or woman herself. Without water families cannot cook or clean or carry out vital daily tasks.

Safe water and adequate sanitation are as critical to primary education as are pencils, books and teachers. As UNICEF describes, "Safe water and adequate sanitation are crucial for girls to take their rightful place in the classroom. Without these basic necessities, girls will continue to be absent."

The United States has been a leader in increasing access to water and sanitation globally. Last year, we joined advocacy groups like WaterAid America, WASH Advocates, Millennium Water Alliance, InterAction and World Vision to campaign in support of the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act will make American foreign assistance much more efficient and will ensure that funding for water and sanitation is getting to the communities with the greatest need. The bill was passed unanimously by the 113th Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2014.

With these efficiencies in place, it is important that the United States Government increases funding for water and sanitation programs to $425 million in fiscal year 2016. This funding increase, from $382.5 million in fiscal year 2015, would allow the United States to continue to expand opportunities for girls and women around the world.

Now, in the midst of the federal budget process, it is critical that leaders in Washington DC understand the significance of increasing access to water and sanitation globally.

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