There is no doubt that a severe water shortage or drought in a particular area has many far reaching effects,but the prognosis for women caught up in a drought can be truly devastating.
Almost two-thirds, 64% of households rely on women to get the family’s water when there is no water source in the home.
Responsibility Falls To Women And Children
Girls under the age of 15 are twice as likely as boys to be the family member responsible for fetching water.
While men tend to the needs of their herds, women bear disproportionate responsibilities in caring for the family and household duties. Their responsibilities include caring for children and the elderly, cleaning the home, cooking, and collecting water. Women sometimes walk up to 30 kilometers to water sources, and often what they are able to collect does not meet the needs of their families. As they travel farther away to available water sources, they have less time to devote to their family’s needs, resulting in social and health related consequences.
As parents engage in more activities away from the home, children suffer the consequences as they are left to care for themselves and the household duties. They care for the young, search for water, and prepare meals for their families and step into more adult roles out of necessity. To supplement the family income, they often take jobs outside of the home, and put themselves at risk for abuse and exploitation as they are without parental protection. When children are expected to bear household responsibilities or provide income for their family, their education suffers significantly. Often, the drought forces children to leave school so they can tend to familial duties and contribute to the household income.
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As the drought worsens in areas such as Northern Kenya, its effects become more pronounced on women and girls. Water scarcity compromises hygiene especially for girls and women as the little water available is prioritised for drinking and cooking. Women and girls have to walk longer distances fetch water, either on their backs or weak donkeys – in some areas they walk for eight to ten hours to the closest water source.
When men are forced to migrate away with their livestock in search of pasture and water, the women are left behind with all of the usual family responsibilities, but very little resources. They are therefore forced to engage in petty trade to put food on the table. For those close to big towns, prostitution is an option for women and girls; exposing them to the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. As women and girls walk in the bushes in search of water, they are also exposed to the possibility of rape by marauding bandits. Culturally women also cannot make any decision to sell or even slaughter small livestock for food, and they have to wait for the men who have moved far away with the rest of the livestock and therefore hard to reach.
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Research has shown that for every 10% increase in women’s literacy, a country’s whole economy can grow by up to 0.3%.
However, most females in drought stricken areas will not complete their education.
Girls are being withdrawn from school to support their mothers in taking care of young siblings or fetching water.
Over half of the developing world’s primary schools don’t have access to water and sanitation facilities. Without toilets, girls often drop out at puberty.
There is compelling evidence that the education of girls and women promotes both individual and national well-being. An example is the strong links between a woman ‘ s education and her employment and income. Another is that better-educated women bear fewer children, who have better chances of surviving infancy, of being healthy, and of attending school. When women are deprived of an education, individuals, families, and children, as well as the societies in which they live, suffer.