International Women’s Day 2024: Don’t Leave Some Behind

Friday, March 8th, 2024

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. When I looked at the International Women’s Day website, I was struck by their missions:

  • Forge inclusive work cultures where women’s careers thrive and their achievements are celebrated
  • Celebrate women creatives and elevate their visibility for commercial projects and commissions
  • Shine a spotlight on activity uplifting and inspiring women to pursue goals without bias or barrier
  • Assist women to be in a position of power making informed decisions about their health
  • Celebrate women athletes and applaud when equality is achieved in pay, sponsorship, and visibility
  • Elevate and advance gender parity in technology and celebrate the women forging innovation 

Of course, these are all admirable missions for women. But when I tried to relate all of these missions to the women we serve at The Water Project, it was difficult. Not because these women can’t have thriving careers. Not because they are incapable of becoming tech-industry mavens, star athletes, or shining examples of creativity. But because a lack of clean water prevents them from achieving what they could otherwise.

These missions forget the many women who are still trapped without the resources to even dream of lofty goals like college and careers. I think of the women mired in water scarcity, unable to advance their own goals when faced with the daily drudgery of finding, collecting, and carrying water. 

There are amazing women at every level of The Water Project — donors, board, staff, and community members. We’re all different, but we’re all united by one common goal: to bring clean water to people suffering without it. This shared goal shatters borders and differences, igniting motivational fires under all of us. 

This incredible motivation is present within everyone working with The Water Project, but frankly, for women and girls, there’s more at stake. And for the women in sub-Saharan Africa, the region where the water crisis is most pervasive, it’s even more important.

Females are four times more likely to fetch water for their households when there is no water at home. Globally, women and girls spend 200 million hours per day collecting water. The long hours women and girls spend fetching water stunt girls’ educations and contribute to dropouts, leaving fewer options for their futures once they grow up. These women and girls undoubtedly have fewer opportunities to become any of the professions uplifted by the International Women’s Day missions.

My goals for women include the sentiments outlined in International Women’s Day missions. I want all those things for women. But if the committee who decided on these missions had consulted me (and why didn’t they, am I right?) I would add one further mission: 

  • Empower women to access vital resources, enabling them to educate themselves and carve their own paths.

If you look across the nonprofit sector, you’ll find countless women striving toward this fundamental goal. And we have many of these women here at The Water Project whom I’d like to highlight (but I’ll settle for two).

Like Janet Kayi, who serves as a Monitoring Associate in our Western Kenya program. She’s also the head of our Regional Service Hub’s staff welfare committee and a dedicated community leader, who works to house and educate underprivileged children in her area. And, importantly for her work, she also grew up without access to clean water.

“As the last-born child in my family, I grew up in a village where access to clean and safe water was a mirage,” Janet said. 

“I used to wake up very early in the morning to go with other girls from my village to fetch water for domestic use from an unprotected spring. The spring was one kilometer away, and therefore making one trip entailed covering two kilometers. Considering the fact that my mother was ailing for [the] most part of her life, I had no other option but to take up that responsibility seriously.

“My entire family comprised of ten children, parents and other relatives. This meant that [the] rate of water consumption was high, and to meet this need, I would make a minimum of five trips per day. This affected me as a young girl because I used to spend so much time fetching water at the expense of being in class. 

“This contributed to cases of absenteeism in school, which impacted negatively on my academics. I was always a sad and frustrated girl because I vividly knew that punishment was guaranteed whenever I failed in exams.”

Going from where Janet began to where she is now took an admirable amount of strength and resilience. As you speak to many of the staff members who work in our service areas, you’ll find many women have had to overcome similar odds to climb out from under the burdens of the water crisis.

Field officer Rose Serete once scooped water from an open pool with a jug to supply her household and her school with water. She would fight with her neighbors and peers over who deserved to fetch water first because the task was so time-consuming.

Now, Rose writes reports for The Water Project: capturing survey data, quotes, photos, and training information for each project in her area. She forms special bonds with each community she serves because she knows exactly how it feels to live without access to clean water.

Project by project, community by community, the women in our network are leveraging their gifts and skills for others. That is not only beautiful, it’s transformative — for everyone involved.

While this day celebrates advancements made toward gender equality, let’s not forget the basic necessities that lay the groundwork for these achievements. Clean water is not just a resource; it’s the foundation of health, education, and economic opportunity. Each new water source is a step towards a future where every woman and girl can pursue their goals without the burden of water scarcity.

All across our service areas, there are women waiting to flourish once they have clean water, like the enterprising Isabella, who built her own small soap-selling shop that blossomed into a soap reagent business with her own employees. Like Cecelia, who used her protected spring’s water to start her own pottery business. Like young Lavender, who knew the spring in her community would be perfect for starting her own poultry farm. Like Jessica, with her newly thriving farm. I could go on and on.

This International Women’s Day, the best way to empower women, to grant them to access vital resources, to enable them to educate themselves and carve their own paths, is to donate water. Each contribution to The Water Project is a powerful step towards a world where every woman and girl can achieve their dreams without barriers.

Together, we can make this vision a reality. 

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Jamie Heminway

Jamie is a storyteller by nature. In joining the Water Project, she’s finally found a workplace where that pesky bleeding heart of hers can be put to use (and, less importantly, that BA in English Language & Literature from New England College).