It’s now one week since International Women's Day and we at Just a Drop held our first ever webinar. At Just a Drop, women are firmly at the centre of our projects. After all, women and water are so closely related, that it wouldn’t make sense for our projects unless women are involved at every level, whether it’s ensuring that we keep girls in school by offering menstrual hygiene training, or preventing the need for women to walk back-breaking distances to collect water, putting themselves at risk of danger.

Just a Drop’s dedication to women was something I was fortunate to discover for myself on a recent trip to Kenya with the charity.

I visited the community of Kathilo in South Eastern Kenya where I met grandmother, Milcah Muli Nzungo, a 70 year old woman who typically would spend 2 hours every day walking 5km to collect water from the nearest pipeline to her house. Even after walking that distance, Milcah can spend up to an hour and a half waiting for her turn in the queue to use the pipeline. 

Just a Drop had worked with Milcah’s community to construct a rock catchment – a large rainwater catchment system that directs and collects the rainfall flowing from a steep rock face into several water tanks. The community can easily access these tanks to use safe clean water. 

The women were no longer having to make the long walk to collect water, but Milcah has noticed that there has been another benefit to the work - attitudes in the community were beginning to change around gender equality and women were starting to take control of their own futures. 

She told me, “Throughout my living, all these years, I never thought I would see these kind of projects here. 

From the time when I was young, men never used to allow their women to go and work. Now we have a real jubilation, as the husbands are saying they can see how important it is for the wives to work and participate with this. 

We have so many changes, we can not only see the youth participating in so much of this work, but also the women who were once not allowed to take part are working so hard to make sure the project is completed.”

Milcah and her community have developed a tree nursery using the excess water from their project - improving their community and their food security, and also giving an income to their families by selling excess crops and seeds.

The hundreds of life-changing stories, like Milcah’s, that we hear everyday, inspired us to run a webinar. We wanted to talk about the success that we’ve had across the world, bringing equity to women and girls and making their lives easier. We wanted to celebrate the unnamed women across the world who every day must wake up and collect water to support their families and their communities. We wanted to raise awareness of them, and help to change their lives.

With this in mind, I thought I’d highlight some of the key themes that emerged from the webinar last week.

Why is lack of water and sanitation a problem that affects women in the first place?

To understand why the pressures of water scarcity are placed on women’s shoulders, we must first consider the power struggle that is exacerbated by lack of water.

Despite the progress that has been made towards gender parity; women are generally excluded and marginalized from decision-making in the economic and political sphere in much of the world. This means that it’s often women who carry out the more menial jobs. Whilst in the UK, this may take the form of housework or childcare, in communities that are affected by water scarcity, the additional pressure of collecting water is not just an added chore, it is an act that dominates women’s lives and leaves them little time to do anything else. In fact, women across the world spend 200 million hours every day collecting water.

In addition to this, women tend to be the main carers, which means that when their family members fall sick from diseases, (often associated with drinking unsafe water and from poor sanitation), it falls on women to look after them.

When you add in the element of period poverty, the problem becomes even worse. If a school lacks water and adequate toilets, then it becomes incredibly challenging for children to go to school, especially for girls and especially during menstruation. Remember, for many girls their first experience of a period is the first time that they have a period. The topic can be so taboo that many parents, teachers and guardians can’t articulate what menstruation is and this further escalates the problem. This lack of understanding also leads to the myths, stigmas and unfounded rules about what a girl or woman can or cannot do during her period, including sometimes not actually being allowed to go to school, to religious spaces or work.

If you are not allowed to attend school (or can’t afford sanitary projects so can’t go anyway) then you miss school every month and you are far more likely to fall behind and drop out of school completely.

Is the problem made worse with climate change?

We are seeing the impacts of climate change affecting many of the areas that we work in; whether it be through droughts in Zambia, extreme floods in Uganda and Cambodia or failed rains in Kenya. These climatic extremes, combined with future population growth and  increased demand for water, is putting increasing pressure on water security both now and also in the future.

Just a Drop’s projects, help to improve access to water and build communities’ resilience to climate change. Most of Just a Drop’s projects focus on developing groundwater as a long-term sustainable source of drinking water and so we drill boreholes that tap into groundwater that's stored underground in local aquifers (rocks that hold water). This water is clean and available all year round.

The engineers who work across our projects think a lot about the borehole design to make sure that we're not risking pulling down the water table in the aquifer around the borehole. In addition to this, we're also very careful to be sure about what the rate of pumping should be. This means that the projects won't lead to the water levels falling and actually lead to the boreholes becoming dry.

However, although groundwater is a great option, it’s not an option everywhere: some rocks are better than others at holding, storing and letting water flow around, so where the underground geology is not really suitable for developing groundwater or, for example if the area we are supporting is on a hill, we need to look for other options.

In Kenya, climate change has really affected the rainfall patterns, meaning that we need to approach the problem by implementing long-lasting and sustainable innovations that are cost effective and easily managed to conserve water resources. We think about the capture and storage of rain water and surface water runoff. By using solutions such as school rainwater harvesting tanks, rock catchments and sand dams built across seasonal rivers, we can ensure that communities still have access to safe water close to their homes all year round.

We add in elements such as land conservation, food and plant management and watershed restoration programmes to complement these programmes, ensuring an holistic approach.


Does taking the walk away from women reduce their opportunity to socialise?

It’s quite a common perception that when safe water projects are introduced to communities, they remove valuable opportunities for women to connect with one another while on their journey to collect water and affect what little social life they have.

We’ve seen that across many of our projects in Kenya, water collection is mostly a solitary duty that puts women at risk of rape and attack from animals. However in India, women often collect water in groups to avoid these dangers.

In both situations, we find more fulfilling ways for women to be able to come together and socialise. They can take part in projects which can help them develop financial opportunities and have less of an impact on both their bodies and their time. Basket weaving, farming and even hairdressing are just some of the ways that women have been able to develop their livelihoods whilst not needing to walk for water.

We are able to cater for both situations as our projects are designed specifically with the community in mind - we ensure that every project we run is inclusive to women and that their voices are heard. We involve them in meetings, in the design of projects and even in the selection of locations for the solutions, as these will still be accessed predominantly by the women in the communities.  We also encourage women to take leadership roles within the water-user committees and we provide training in governance, book-keeping and minute- keeping to support their understanding of the projects.

Essentially, by bringing safe water close to homes, girls are more likely to be able to go to school, families are healthier and women have much more free time; potentially allowing them to have income generation opportunities but fundamentally unlocking them from the cycle of drudgery.

What can I do to have an impact?

Anyone can help to accelerate gender equality; whether that is volunteering your skills, celebrating women's achievements or being more inclusive in your teams at work.

Just a Drop works closely with a number of corporate partners who enable us to further our cause and increase the scope and scale of our projects. We believe that businesses play a key part in development and that by working together they have the tools to enable change to happen. 

If you would like to find out more about how to become a corporate partner or find out how you could get involved, please email [email protected]