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Improving water access to empower women

Sunlight reveals how access to clean water is allowing women in Asia and Africa to reclaim their time

Water for women

Woman carrying water in a container

Unilever’s Sunlight hand-dishwashing brand is reclaiming time and creating opportunities for hundreds of thousands of women.  

The Water for Women report, launched for World Water Day by Unilever and NGOs Water Aid, Oxfam and NextDrop, reveals that women globally spend up to 200 million hours collecting water every day.

In South Africa alone, women walk the combined distance of 16 return journeys to the moon each day, just to fetch water.

And in sub-Saharan Africa, women lose 40 million working hours every year to water collection – that’s equivalent to a year’s worth of labour from the entire workforce in France.

The value of time

The impacts are vast. Water collection cuts into the time women could spend in education, earning a living, enjoying their families or contributing to their communities. It’s holding them back from fulfilling their potential which in turn affects empowerment, equality and the economy – and that’s why Sunlight believes helping women reclaim their time is so valuable.

In 2013, Sunlight partnered with Oxfam to establish two Water Centres in Nigeria, providing communities in rural villages with a sustainable supply of clean water for domestic tasks. Watch a video of the Water Centres.

These facilities have not just given thousands of women access to safe water but have also enabled them to reclaim their time – another precious, life-enriching commodity.

Unilever is also working with social enterprise Next Drop, piloting a service which texts subscribers in urban communities in Mysore, India, alerting them when clean water will be available nearby. This prevents people from wasting hours each day waiting for water.

Mnguswn's story

Mnguswn used to walk a four kilometre round-trip to collect water from the river every day, often spending up to three hours in a queue once she got there.

It left her exhausted. But when a Water Centre opened nearby, everything changed. Now fetching water takes as little as 20 minutes, giving Mnguswn back valuable hours.

“Whenever there is poverty, women suffer more than men because we are the ones looking after the house and the children,” she says.

“If other women have access to a Water Centre like this, they will have enough time for themselves and their families.”

Fulfilling potential

Hanneke Willenborg, Vice-President Global Dishwash, says: “We need to give time for girls to finish school, time for women to earn a living, time for everyone to reach their full potential.

“Reaching everyone, everywhere with access to clean water isn’t just a dream. Where we bring together the skills and resources of governments, agencies, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and most importantly communities, a leap forward during the next 15 years is not only realistic, it is achievable.”

Join the discussion on Twitter. Share how important water is to you with the hashtag #wateris and share the link to the report with the hashtag #waterforwomen

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