In Kenya, a girl is referred to as a “girl child” and is considered endangered. Ask any girl child in Kenya how she would rather spend her time, and she’d share her dreams for school, a career and her contribution (beyond walking for water) to her community. Unsafe water and lack of sanitation is not only her villain; it’s also a villain to her community.

Short-term solution

This year women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa will spend 40 billion hours in search of, and carrying water that is most often unsafe, according to the United Nations. Water is typically hauled in a jerry-can. Originally designed for diesel transport, these full containers weigh more than 40 pounds when full, and have become a symbol of water’s role in robbing opportunities from girls in the developing world.

"As a woman, I know the pain young girls and women go through to make sure water is available for domestic use in a family,” says Catherine Chepkemoi, a project coordinator who helps lead The Water Project’s work in Western Kenya. “Helping the girl child improve her health and the health of her family, and granting her time for study and other economic activities is important to me. Convenient access to water and sanitation facilities increases safety and reduces the risk of women and girls to sexual harassment or assault while gathering water.”

“By having such women in the world, development is rapid, real and achievable. And, it most often begins with access to safe water.”

The Water Project partners with communities to provide safe water solutions, construct latrines at institutions and maintain proper sanitation and hygiene practices. “We partner with promising local NGOs with a new or growing commitment to providing sustainable access to safe water and sanitation through appropriate, community-driven projects,” says Peter Chasse, The Water Project’s founder and CEO. “Our deep desire is to see those we support and serve flourish through the gift of water, becoming the true catalysts and heroes as their communities climb out of poverty. Women are undeniably a key player as both recipient and implementer.”

Long-term solution:  

Because of the primary role women play with water sources, women have accumulated considerable knowledge in the field.

“Women are catalysts for multiplying development efforts,” says Chepkemoi. “This is because women leaders for WASH are in a better position to champion for the role of women in decision-making, capacity building, educating children on sanitation and hygiene and mobilizing political will around other priorities—such as the linkages between water, sanitation and hygiene. Projects designed and run with the full participation of women are more sustainable and effective than those that do not.”

Ultimately, water development is not something that happens to a community; it happens with a community. If women are empowered to take on leadership roles, the girl child and other women across the community are inspired and similarly empowered. What children see and experience in the home and within their community can influence lifelong beliefs and behaviors. As her potential is unlocked, the girl child, influenced by leaders like Catherine, realize they have the potential to inspire change as well.

“By having such women in the world, development is rapid, real and achievable,” Chepkemoi reflects. “And, it most often begins with access to safe water.”