Watering the Grassroots: Training African Women to Solve Water Problems

The Women's Earth Alliance

"Water is life. When everyone has access to sources of water that are treated, protected and managed effectively, there will be improvement in the livelihood of the community members - especially women and children who have to move miles away in search of water for daily household activities." Nadiatu Ali and Victoria Yaro (2010 GWWI Grassroots Graduates)

These women have just been trained in improved water and sanitation practices by the Global Women's Water Initiative
These women have just been trained in improved water and sanitation practices by the Global Women's Water Initiative
More people die from unsafe water than all forms of violence, including war. Africa faces some of the most acute and devastating water problems in the world. African women must endure the worst of these challenges, yet they are often left out of development schemes and policies. The FAO recognizes that the "exclusion of women from the planning of water supply and sanitation schemes is a major cause of their high rate of failure."

Comfort and Georgina were from a community in Ghana where water-borne illness and inaccessible safe drinking water were a reality; girls were missing school to collect water for their families, compromising their education and future potential. In 2010, these women leaders participated in a Global Women's Water Initiative (GWWI) training, a Women's Earth Alliance program in partnership with Crabgrass. Over the course of the year, Comfort and Georgina learned appropriate technologies designed to address issues of water and sanitation in their community, including solar cooking and rainwater harvesting. They also mastered the principles of action planning, and refined their ability to teach others the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). With the support of seed funding, ongoing refresher trainings, and a peer network of African colleagues, Comfort and Georgina successfully translated their new skills into action, launching a rainwater harvesting system at three schools in their community, and teaching others to do the same.

Prior to their efforts, these schools were not equipped with water or sanitation facilities – a problem that is all too typical across much of Africa. Students and teachers frequently have to bring water from home or fetch water during class time to provide for the school. Comfort and Georgina's rainwater harvesting systems transformed their community's local schools, providing teachers and students with improved access to clean water, and reducing the arduous, and sometimes dangerous, treks that students used to walk in search of water.

As caregivers and water harvesters, women spend countless hours fetching water for drinking, irrigation and cooking in developing countries. The United Nations Development Fund for Women estimates that "women and children in Africa alone spend approximately 40 billion hours every year fetching and carrying water – a figure equivalent to a year's labor for the entire workforce of France." Despite their long search, the water that women collect is often unsafe to drink. Access to clean drinking water is a human right, yet globally 1.1 billion people continue to suffer from inaccessible safe drinking water. The participation of women in developing solutions to issues of clean water and sanitation is essential to their success, yet women are often left out of policies related to these issues. Grassroots women leaders understand the needs of their community – but they need the resources, training and confidence to improve their community's health.

The Global Women's Water Initiative, a program of Women's Earth Alliance, works in 13 African nations to improve water supply through training and funding African women leaders as water and sanitation technicians. Our trainings empower African women leaders with water technologies, livelihood opportunities, seed funding, and leadership skills so they can design appropriate and long-term solutions to water and sanitation crises in their communities. This March, our West African Women and Water Training Initiative equipped 15 teams of West African women leaders from Ghana, Liberia, Togo, Cameroon, Nigeria to provide over 75 communities with clean water and sanitation through their innovative water and sanitation projects. In 2011, 60 more African women will become GWWI Grassroots Graduates and will bring safe water solutions to their communities.

More information: 
  • For more information visit The Women's Earth Alliance website.