The study provides the first in-depth analysis of gender inequalities in drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in households, revealing that women and girls bear the brunt of the global water and sanitation crisis.
Billions lack access
Worldwide, 2.2 billion people still do not have access to potable water at home, and about 3.4 billion do not have access to safe sanitation. About two billion people cannot wash their hands with soap and water at home.
The report found that women are the most likely to be responsible for fetching water for households, and women are almost twice as likely as men.
Women and girls often make longer journeys to fetch water, causing them to miss out on education, work, and leisure time. They also face the risk of physical harm and road hazards.
“Every step a girl takes to collect water is a step away from learning, playing, and safety,” said Cecilia Sharp, UNICEF Director of WASH and CEED, referring to the climate agency’s work. , energy, environment and disaster risk reduction.
“Unsafe water, toilets, and handwashing at home deprives women of their potential, compromises their well-being, and perpetuates cycles of poverty,” she added.
Nearly two billion people around the world live in households without an on-site water supply, according to the report. In most of these households, seven out of 10, girls and women aged 15 and above are primarily responsible for fetching water, compared to boys and men.
Compromise of privacy and dignity
Women and girls are also more likely to feel unsafe using the toilet outside the home, and disproportionately suffer the impact of lack of hygiene.
More than half a billion people worldwide still share sanitation facilities with other households, compromising the privacy, dignity, and safety of women and girls.
Recent surveys from 22 countries show that among households with toilets, women and girls are more likely than men and boys to feel unsafe walking alone in night and face sexual harassment and other safety risks.
In addition, inadequate WASH services increase health risks for women and girls and limit their ability to safely and privately manage their periods.
Dr. Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Environment, Climate Change and Health Department, noted that 1.4 million people die every year due to inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene.
“Women and girls not only face infectious diseases related to WASH, such as diarrhea and acute respiratory infections, they face additional health risks because they are vulnerable to harassment, violence , and it’s bad if they have to go out of the house to fetch water or just to use the toilet,” he said.
More action is needed
The report also highlights global progress towards ensuring that people everywhere have access to WASH services.
Between 2015 and 2022, household access to safely managed drinking water increased from 69 percent to 73 percent. The same period also saw safe sanitation management increase from 49 percent to 57 percent; and basic hygiene services will increase from 67 percent to 75 percent.
However, UN agencies have warned that more efforts are needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target for universal access to safe WASH services by 2030.
Further action is also needed to ensure that development contributes to gender equality.