With the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, and millions upon millions of Americans joining with the Women's March on Washington in DC or in their respective cities, this is an unprecedented time to honor the spirit of democracy and the champions of human rights, dignity and justice who have gone before us.
It is also a time to remind ourselves of two things. First, that we are all human beings made of the same stuff, and we all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Second, that together we hold the power to determine the future of the world in which we live.
As a mother to two young daughters, as a business owner and as Chief Executive of WaterAid, the leading international nonprofit dedicated to clean water, toiIets and hygiene, I am extremely passionate about gender equality and female empowerment.
There's no denying that inequality between the sexes continues in various manifestations around the world today, in different cultural contexts. Here in the US, women continue to fight against the gender pay gap in the workplace. Precisely zero of the world's top 50 companies have a female CEO. And US maternal mortality rates are amongst the highest of any developed country. But what about women in low income countries?
For billions of women and girls around the globe, the single most critical barrier to achieving gender equality is also one of the most solvable: the lack of clean, safe water and decent sanitation. Now more than ever, my colleagues and I at WaterAid are determined to change this inequality by empowering the people who are marginalized the most.
That's because, in low income countries and among marginalized groups in middle income countries, women and girls are the ones who carry the heavy burden of collecting water for themselves and for their families. They're the ones who shoulder the daily drudgery of hours spent walking to and from the water source: a task that robs them of the chance to get an education or start a business. They're the ones who suffer the daily injustice of defecating in the open vulnerable to prying eyes and subjected to harassment or rape every time they need to use the bathroom. And among the girls who do get the chance to attend school, they are often the ones who drop out as adolescents when they start menstruating simply because there are no private toilets where they can manage their hygiene needs in dignity.
Think it can't be done? It can. For the first time in history, 9 out of 10 people on this planet have access to safe water, and 78 million more people are turning on a tap or using a pump every year. More than 6 in 10 people in the world today now have access to good sanitation, and 69 million more people are closing a toilet door behind them for the first time every year. These are amazing accomplishments that fill me with hope and optimism. The challenge this year is not to lose this momentum and do what we need to do to finish the job.
On both personal and professional levels, I have big dreams for 2017. Those dreams start right here, right now, with the quest for gender equality worldwide--a quest that can only be achieved when everyone, everywhere has access to safe water and sanitation. This is not a task that will be easy. But then, nothing worthwhile ever is.
As we begin a new era in US politics, this week, there has never been a more important time to remind ourselves that there is no limit to what can be achieved when we work together. With a combined effort, both at home and abroad, let's build on the momentum and reach everyone everywhere with clean water and toilets by 2030. Now is the time to lose the trepidation and show the world what we're really made of.