Access to water and dignified sanitation is key to women’s emancipation

File image: IOL.

It’s August again, the month dedicated to our precious women in South Africa. It’s the month when all the focus is women empowerment, development and gender equality. This year this special month is celebrated under the theme: “25 Years of Democracy: Growing South Africa Together for Women’s Emancipation”. 

The promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment is central to government’s efforts to combat poverty and stimulate sustainable development. As we celebrate Women’s Day on 09 August and the rest of the Women’s Month, the question we all need to ask ourselves is: are we doing enough to ensure that women, especially rural women are empowered to compete on equal basis?

Access to socio-economic development infrastructure and capacity building is crucial for women emancipation. Access to clean and safe water and dignified sanitation is one of the main challenges faced by women, especially in rural areas and this leaves them pinned in the cycle of poverty. The lack of water and safe sanitation facilities negatively affects women development and progress in life. 

Women are responsible for finding a resource for their families need to survive, for drinking, cooking, sanitation and hygiene. It must be remembered that water is life. The burden of finding and providing water lies with women and the girl child. The development of the girl child is negatively affected by the need to source and collect water for the family as it takes time away from school and play.

Rural women bring water to their homes from rivers and springs, boil it for use in the household and care for it to provide healthy drinking water. In ensuring the provision of water for their families, women walk long distances, stand in line and wait for water leaving them with little time for school, and work. This negatively affects women in attaining gender equality in the workplace as they are mainly deprived of the equal opportunity to education and skills. Without water or proper sanitation facilities at home, women cannot live up to their full potential to compete with their male counterparts.

Access to safe water is critical to the health of women and their babies during pregnancy and after birth. Walking long distances to collect water and carry heavy containers can be dangerous for a pregnant woman. Access to safe water and proper sanitation facilities is crucial to prevent the spread of diseases and unnecessary deaths.

Access to safe water can quickly turn problems and challenges for women into potential; empowering women with time for school and work and contribute to improved health for women and children and break the cycle of poverty. When women have access to safe water and sanitation, they can pursue more beyond water collection and traditional roles.

Women and water have an important relationship as they are both sources of life and fundamental to existence. Life depends on women as it does on water. Water also connects every aspect of life. It is therefore crucial that we treat women and water with respect.

It is critical that we create an enabling environment for women to have equal access to opportunities, to break sexist ideas around women’s abilities and roles. Access to water can play a major role in creating this enabling environment, especially for rural women as they spend most of their time searching and fetching water for the survival of their families.

The government needs to also intensify and fastrack its water provision infrastructure projects to ensure universal access to water for all to ensure that women have the equal opportunity to compete with their male counterparts in for socio-economic development opportunities. Let us protect our women and water as they are the sources of life.


Themba Khoza is the Department of Water and Sanitation,  Mpumalanga Provincial Office Communications Manager responsible for all communications activities in the Mpumalanga Province.