Women are the world’s principal food producers and providers and are assuming an increasing role in agriculture, partly because of the rural-to-urban migration of men.
Women and female children spend more than 10 million person – years carrying water from distant sources every year.
Medical research has documented cases of permanent damage to women’s health attributed to carrying water. Problems range from chronic fatigue, spinal and pelvic deformities, to effects on reproductive health such as spontaneous abortions. In some parts of Africa, where women expend as much as 85% of their daily energy intake fetching water, the incidence of anaemia and other health problems are very high (SIDA, 1997).
In some regions, women spend up to 5 hours a day collecting fuel wood and water and up to 4 hours preparing food.
In Africa, 90% of the work of gathering water and wood, for the household and for food preparation, is done by women.
In the Brazilian northeast, during times of drought, most men migrate for wage employment and women become the heads of the household. These women are known as widows of the drought.
Women are most often the collectors, users and managers of water in the household as well as farmers of irrigated and rainfed crops. Because of these roles, women have considerable knowledge about water resources, including quality and reliability, restrictions and acceptable storage methods, and are key to the success of water resources development and irrigation policies and programmes
Women are the main producers of the world’s staple crops (rice, wheat, maize), which provide up to 90% or the rural poor’s food intake
On average women and children travel 10-15 kilometers per day collecting water and carrying up to 20 kilos or 15 litres per trip
Some 30% of women in Egypt walk over 1 hour a day to meet water needs. In some parts of Africa, women and children spend 8 hours a day collecting water
In some mountainous regions of East Africa, women spend up to 27% of their caloric intake in collecting water
It has been calculated that in South Africa alone, women collectively walk the equivalent distance of 16 times to the moon and back per day gathering water for families
The economic value of this unpaid contribution is enormous: in India it is estimated that women fetching water spend 150 million work days per year, equivalent to a national loss of income of 10 billion Rupees
70% of the world’s blind are women who have been infected, directly or through their children, with trachoma, a blinding bacterial eye infection occurring in communities with limited access to water.
[UNESCO Water Portal
International Year of Freshwater, 2003
FAO focus: Women and food security