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Vulnerable to Attack

Dr. Glenn Patterson and Dr. Melinda Laituri discuss the risk of vulnerable attacks women and girls face on their long walks to collect water.
Well, speaking of privacy and safety, women and girls who have to go fetching water– and as you say, an average of 3.7 miles– that’s a lot of walking at a distance from the safety of home in a village? Do women and girls sometimes face enhanced risk of attacks, such as abduction and rape, by spending so much time walking long distances to fetch water? Yes, is the short answer. There is danger in this– not only in terms of where they have to walk, but also when they do it.
And so if they have to go multiple times in a day to go fetch water, then there really is a problem depending on are you going in the morning, are you able to go with other women, do you suddenly have to go by yourself, are you able to take some of your siblings with you. These kinds of things all have an impact on safety. The other issue that factors into this is also we start to talk about things that we’re not necessarily comfortable talking about. So even when girls go and collect water, they will have needs where they may need to relieve themselves. They may need to go defecate. They may need to change things, because they’re menstruating.
These are not things we necessarily like to talk about in society. But they’re very real world, everyday things that these young girls have to contend with. And so that issue of privacy compounds that walk to the water to get water for their families. That is much more complicated than just going and getting the water and coming back.

While women and girls are on their long walks away from homes and villages, they may be vulnerable to violent attacks. They may also be vulnerable to such attacks if they have no private sanitation facilities. For example, according to Amnesty International, in their report, “Where is the dignity in that?’ Women in Solomon Islands denied sanitation and safety”, two out of three Pacific island females are affected by violence against women. The report states,

“Women and girls in the Solomon Islands are forced to risk their personal safety for something most of us take for granted – clean water and basic sanitation. Women and girls are often attacked while walking long distances from “slums” or informal settlements in the Islands’ capital, Honiara, to collect clean water for cooking and cleaning, or to visit toilets. Their journeys often take them through remote and poorly lit areas. They are particularly vulnerable on the return journey when they are carrying heavy loads of water.”
In a 2011 article in the Huffington Post entitled “Sexual violence on the way to water”, Jan Eliasson describes threats and attacks faced by girls who walk long distances to fetch water in Uganda,
“(Sixteen-year-old) Scovia told WaterAid that when she walks to get water, she is routinely harassed by boys and men along the way, who threaten her with extreme forms of sexual violence and even death. Scovia’s friends face the same threats, and she tells of one who is now pregnant after an attack.”

Unfortunately these stories exemplify situations that are all too common in many places in the world where women and girls must walk long distances to collect water. In 2016 the organization, Human Rights Watch, wrote a letter to UN Special Rapporteur (an independent expert working on behalf of the United Nations) Léo Heller documenting numerous locations and instances in which women and girls faced similar risks and threats.

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Water for the People: Gender, Human Rights, and Diplomacy

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