What Does Clean Water Have to Do with Women’s Rights?

 In Hygiene, Sanitation, Uganda, Water

“What does it look like to be a middle/high school girl in Kaberamaido, Uganda? Often times it looks NOTHING like this.” (Instagram @thisislindsay)

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What does it look like to be a middle/high school girl in Kaberamaido, Uganda? Often times it looks NOTHING like this. ?? When a young girl starts development and hits puberty, she is expected to marry. At 14, her school books are burned, she is shamed for going to school with breasts, and her home life becomes increasingly difficult as she is almost forced to leave her family. . ?? They are expected to marry, have kids, and work. And work means getting water for the family, hand washing clothes, and farming with hand tools all while trying to raise and feed her children. . ?? We kept hearing that girls were defiled but we didn’t understand what that meant. We asked a government leader and he told us that girls were often lured by promises of food and clothes for their family in return for sex. So, not called rape because it isn’t violent and isn’t resisted but still… ?? With the help of @surgeforwater , POPOW, a local Ugandan organization, is trying vigilantly to break that mold. By helping to provide clean, accessible water, encouraging mothers to keep their girls in school, educating them against the taboo menstrual stigma and empowering these young girls, POPOW is making small but significant strides in the community. There are generations of mindsets that have to be changed but it is happening. Even if it’s happening one drop at a time, it’s happening. #photographyforgood

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We are dedicated to bringing access to clean water and sanitation to communities around the globe. We often share stories about fixing wells that provide families with clean water for the first time and enable children to attend school and receive an education. But the relationship between clean water and women empowerment isn’t something often talked about.

In a recent trip to Uganda, our trip participants were captivated by the young girls we met through our Menstrual Hygiene training program. Our volunteers listened to the girls, heard their stories and came back home eager to share. They learned that having access to clean water means that the harassment of women drops by 32% and that 33% of women become more active in their communities.* They use the time previously spent collecting water to instead help their communities succeed.

During this trip, our volunteers went one step further by starting a new class with teenage boys to have “a conversation that is needed on a daily basis with young boys about being responsible, respectful, supportive, and kind.” (Instagram @girlinsearchofthatpicture). The class was led by local male role models and our male volunteers. Our work in countries like Uganda challenges the traditional conversations about gender roles and strives to show how men and women can work together to be supportive members of their communities.

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We talk about #feminism, we talk about #women #empowerment and #equality. We teach our daughters to be kind and polite, we teach them what consent means. In some communities though around the world, like the ones we met in Kaberamaido, #Uganda, that may not mean anything when girls are taken out of school and married at the age of 13-14 in exchange for food and clothes. When married so young, they start having children at that young age and by the time they reach 30, most of them have 8-10 kids on an average. . These girls who were taught to be kind and polite are married to the boys who have been brought up with a sense of entitlement. They grow up to be disrespectful, abusive resulting in domestic abuse cases. Based on the latest data available on UN website and our discussions with the local leadership in Uganda, the rate of domestic and sexual violence cases is almost as high as 50%. . We met some very powerful women during our interactions at different schools, communities in Kaberamaido and one of the things that came out of all the discussions was that there is little to no support from the men in these communities. All these discussions gave birth to a new line of conversation, a conversation that is needed on a daily basis with young boys about being responsible, respectful, supportive and kind. @SurgeForwater and POPOW started a new class which included the teenage boys with the local male role models and some of the amazing men (@mikecolon @bob_davis and JP) who were part of the Surge and @Photoserve team. . Yes, I am writing about my experience from the town in Uganda I visited last month but we all know that this issue is not isolated to that town in Uganda or the country itself. It is a #universal issue. So let’s educate and empower our daughters. Let’s teach our sons how to be responsible and kind. Let’s teach our children, irrespective of the gender, to be respectful. . #iphoneography #africa #african_portraits #natgeoyourshot #natgeo #nationalgeographic #igersafrica #ig_africa #surgeforwater

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Having access to water and hygiene does more than send a girl to school, it can unlock her chance to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor, teacher, lawyer, pilot, and so much more. Having access to water does more than help a woman support her family, it gives her a voice in her community. Having access to water is more than just a right it’s being empowered to do anything you set your mind to!

Learn more about how our work helps keep children healthy and in school.

* From The Women and Water: Ripple Effect Study

Written by Ashley Quinlan, Program Coordinator

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