Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Access to Water: A Case for Women and Girls

July 8, 2013

  Elizabeth Nye

As Catholics, we believe that everyone should have access to water, a necessary gift for the nourishment of our bodies and all creation. Pope Benedict XVI declared on World Water Day 2007: “Access to water is one of the inalienable rights of every human being, because it is a prerequisite for the realization of the majority of the other human rights, such as the rights to life, to food, and to health.”

Water is the basis for all human life; however, UN Water estimates that 1.8 billion people live without access to clean, safe drinking water. Many families throughout the world must venture for miles, sometimes days, just to gather a single jug of contaminated water. This responsibility generally falls into the laps of women and girls in the household, and becomes a key task necessary for theirs and their families’ survival.

Carrying up to 50 pounds of water on their backs while going back and forth from their homes to the water source, women and children lose out on education, employment, or caring for their families. Water.org estimates that 152 million hours of women and girls’ time is dedicated to traveling for and retrieving water. This is time that could be reduced almost completely if people living in rural areas throughout the world had the infrastructure to support a safe and clean water access structure in their communities.

This is not just an issue of creating access to safe and clean drinking water. A large part of why it is necessary to travel so far to get to water sources is attributed to climate change and the way it is re-shaping where natural water sources are located in the world. Some examples of this include the melting glaciers in the Andes and mountain regions of Pakistan, locations where many Columban Missionaries are located and have seen the first-hand effects of water shortages.

This is an issue that is multi-faceted and complex, and steps that we can take are two-fold. First, we can support sound policies that protect creation throughout the globe from addressing climate change to protecting water sources. Second, we can support legislation in the United States to provide water to people throughout the world. Representative Poe (R-TX) and Representative Blumenauer (D-OR) will soon introduce the Water for the World Act of 2013 to improve monitoring and evaluation of water programs to ensure that countries with the greatest need are benefitting from water and sanitation programs. This builds on the 2005 bi-partisan “Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act.”

As Pope Benedict XVI affirms, water is essential for our right to life. In the case of women and girls, access to water means an education, a job, an ability to care for her family, all in all a higher quality of life. When women and girls around the world have opportunities, we all benefit.

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