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Report shows how access to water can empower women


Average read time: 6 minutes

London - A new Global report launched today by Unilever brand Sunlight, WaterAid, Oxfam, and social enterprise, NextDrop, examines the cost of time lost across the world by women and girls through the simple act of accessing clean water.

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Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world's population live in areas of physical scarcity. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under conditions of water stress. More and more communities around the world are forced to survive with limited, or no access to, clean water.

The burden of collecting water falls on the shoulders of women and girls. It’s estimated that they spend 200 million hours every single day simply collecting water for themselves and their families - time that could be spent working and earning, in education, with the family or contributing to the community.

This report, released ahead of World Water Day, sets out to demonstrate why the interlinkages between water, sanitation and gender equality must be recognised at every level from government, civil society, business to community.

2015 is a critical year for beginning the journey to achieving better water access with the release of the sustainable development goals. These goals have the potential to change the world. The partners of this report believe a dedicated goal for water and sanitation will begin to transform the lives of women and girls and address a root cause of gender inequality.

Commenting on the launch, Hanneke Willenborg, Sunlight, Unilever VP Global Dishwash said: “Collaboration between organisations like ours is going to be vital. 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.

“At Sunlight we are doing this because we want to help reduce the burden on women whilst achieving sustainable growth. We believe that the private sector can – and should - make a huge contribution to development issues. In this case that is giving time back for girls to finish school, time for women to earn a living, time for everyone to reach their full potential.”

The new report brings together the voices of women affected by poor access to water, examples of programmes working to improve access in different environments, and the compound benefits of programmes like these.

Jane Wilbur, Equity, Inclusion and Rights Advisor, WaterAid commented: “At every stage in life, the absence of safe water robs women of opportunity and even life itself. Improving women's access to water can free up to hundreds of hours annually that they can instead devote to earning a living, getting time back for themselves, and strengthening families and communities.

“The importance of this last point shouldn’t be underestimated - women reinvest 90% of their income back into their families (compared to 30-40% for men), improving their family’s health and nutrition, and ensuring that their children get a good education. Government investment in water and sanitation is therefore vital to end global poverty.”

Anu Sridharan, CEO, NextDrop added: “Technology has a key role to play in addressing development issues. For NextDrop, the game-changer was the advent of the mobile phone, and the ubiquity of mobile technology. The teledensity (Telephones per 100 people) in India as of June 2010 was 56.83%, with 94.61% of this being wireless. In urban areas, the wireless teledensity is 128.2 % with the number of mobile phone connections in India expecting to grow to more than one billion by 2015.

"This technological development makes mobile innovation a prime platform for development in the water sector. Especially when it comes to collecting and distributing critical information in real time. ”

Jenny Lamb, Public Health Engineering Advisor, Oxfam commented: “Every woman counts, every second counts” is a motto I, as a water sanitation engineer, always keep with me when I’m deployed to emergencies across the globe.

“For many it is a life of walking long distances to collect water, which takes an estimated 26% of women’s time in rural Africa, 40 billion hours total each year; thus a life of missing school, work, and playtime because, in many cultures, bringing water home is one of priorities for women and girls. It’s a constant reminder that lifting the burden of collecting water – through successful and sustainable water programmes – relies totally on participation from the community, in particular women.”

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Working together to give women the time they deserve

All parties involved in this report are committed to making change, this year we need:

  • United Nations Member States to continue to include a dedicated goal for water and sanitation within the Sustainable Development Goals, with ambitious targets for universal WASH access by 2030.
  • Governments to ensure this commitment is reflected in national plans to achieving affordable, sustainable, safe access to water, sanitation and hygiene for everyone as soon as possible and at least by 2030.
  • NGOs and civil society must continue to monitor progress and hold governments to account for achieving 100% access to water, sanitation and hygiene, and meaningfully participate in planning, delivering and verifying services.
  • Businesses should engage in public-private partnerships to address issues across water, sanitation and hygiene. More actors in the private sector should commit to investing in social development
  • Communities must be involved and given a full role in all decisions that affect their water resources.

About Unilever

Unilever is one of the world’s leading suppliers of Food, Home and Beauty & Personal Care products with sales in over 190 countries and reaching 2 billion consumers a day. It has 172,000 employees and generated sales of €48.4 billion in 2014. Over half of the company’s footprint is in developing and emerging markets (57% in 2014). With more than 400 brands found in homes around the world, its portfolio includes Persil, Dove, Knorr, Domestos, Hellmann’s, Lipton, Wall’s, PG Tips, Ben & Jerry’s, Marmite, Magnum and Lynx.

Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) commits to:

  • Helping more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being
  • Decoupling growth from environmental impact
  • And enhancing the livelihoods of millions of people by 2020

Unilever was ranked number one in its sector in the 2014 Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In the FTSE4Good Index Series, it attained a top environmental score of 5. It led the list of Global Corporate Sustainability Leaders in the GlobeScan/SustainAbility annual survey for the fourth year running.

In 2014 Unilever was also named in LinkedIn’s Top 3 most sought-after employers across all sectors. For more information about Unilever and its brands, please visit For more information on the USLP visit

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