Water, Environment & Sanitation

The Role of Women & Girls


© UNICEF/HQ93-0995/Toutounji

A girl carries water home in the village of Bayt Misheyeh, Lebanon.

UNICEF’s overall objective in the water and sanitation sector is to promote the survival, protection and development of children, and to promote behavioural changes essential to realizing the full benefits of water and sanitation services.

These and other objectives cannot be met without the full participation of women - as care-givers, workers, beneficiaries of services and decision-makers in homes, communities and at national levels - and without addressing the inequities suffered by girls. UNICEF focuses on these issues by ensuring that women and girls are at the forefront of our planning and efforts. 

Women and girls bear the burden of fetching water – and as a result miss out on opportunities for education, productive activities or leisure time.


Women and girls’ bear the burden: time spent to fetch water in rural sub-Saharan Africa, 2002. Source: UNICEF MICS Surveys.

Girls and women also pay the heaviest price for poor sanitation. There are many reasons, beyond the health repercussions of inadequate sanitation, for why it is a priority issue for women and girls:

Freedom from imprisonment by daylight
In many cultures, the only time available for women or girls to defecate, if they don't have a latrine, is after dark. Apart from the discomfort caused by the long wait, this can cause serious illness. And there is also a risk of harassment and assault during the night-time walk to and from the communal defecation fields.

School enrolment and attendance
The lack of adequate facilities in schools is one of the main factors preventing girls from attending school, particularly when menstruating.

Reduce the burden of caring for the sick
The health and lives of more than half the world's children are constantly threatened by environmental hazards as they get sick through contact with excreta in their environment. Caring for sick children adds to the already heavy workload of women and girls.

Protect pregnant women from diseases
About 44 million pregnant women have hookworm infections that pose a considerable health burden in developing societies.

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