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Period Poverty, Water Scarcity and Girls’ Education in Africa

Updated: Mar 15, 2022


ON OCTOBER 21, 2021

– Sana Mamtaney

Photo: Unsplash

WARREN, New Jersey — Period poverty, water scarcity, and girls’ education are all issues that affect African women and girls daily. However, these issues are interconnected. Period poverty, water scarcity and a lack of access to girls’ education keep the cycle of global poverty alive for women and girls.

Water Scarcity as a Women’s Issue

In Sub-Saharan Africa, women and young girls physically and metaphorically carry the water burden. While men are expected to find work, women and girls are expected to take care of children and acquire water. Journeys can take hours. In some countries, the journey can be an eight hours roundtrip. Women and girls take treks like these multiple times a week. Each person is usually only able to carry one 40 pound jerry can. The can does not last very long, as families use this water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. These journeys where women and girls carry heavy cans can cause health issues and physical ailments. Oftentimes, the water is not clean enough to drink and can cause illnesses like diarrhea and cholera.

According to Annick Thiombiano, a representative of The Georgie Badiel Foundation, “women in Saharan Africa spend 16 million hours collecting water every day. By solving the water crisis, women will have more time to focus on their families, their education, and economic stability.” The foundation brings clean water to rural communities in Burkina Faso.

A study conducted by George Washington University found that across 24 sub-Saharan African countries, the primary water collectors were women and young girls. In families where a member had to spend 30 minutes or more collecting water, the family member was typically a woman. The number ranged from 46% in Liberia to 90% in Côte d’Ivoire. For children, 62% of girls were water collectors for their families compared to 38% for boys.

Period Poverty Across sub-Saharan Africa

Like water scarcity, period poverty is an African women’s issue that can prevent them from lifting themselves out of global poverty. Period poverty exists where girls and women do not have adequate menstrual products or cannot clean themselves because of an inconsistant water source. This often leads them to use unhygienic items as period products. Many report using old clothes and newspapers as sanitary pads when they do not have access to sanitary products. This is unhygienic and can cause other health problems and infections.

As a result of the lack of sanitary products and the potential for period mishaps, many girls do not attend school while they are on their periods. According to a 2014 report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, one out of every 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa does not go to school during her period.

Girls’ Education Across sub-Saharan Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, girls have much less access to education than boys do. Despite actions taken by organizations and even governments to increase girls’ education, there are still no sub-Saharan African countries where an equal number of boys and girls attend primary and secondary school. There are only 92 girls in the region for every 100 boys in primary school. In secondary school, there are only about 8 girls for every 10 boys enrolled.

Education is integral to helping women and girls escape poverty. With skills and tools to work in professional jobs, girls have the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. However, the lack of girls’ education, period poverty and water scarcity fuel this inequity. This makes it extremely difficult to break the cycle of poverty. However, some organizations are working to lend a hand to women and girls and help break the cycle.

The Georgie Badiel Foundation

Georgie Badiel-Liberty is a supermodel and a philanthropist. She’s also a woman who has experienced water scarcity, period poverty and difficulty receiving an education. She grew up in Burkina Faso and woke up every morning at 6 a.m. to fetch water with her grandmother and other female relatives. It was a three-hour round trip.

Following her success, Badiel-Liberty founded the Georgie Badiel Foundation in 2015. It brings clean and accessible drinking water across Burkina Faso and assists with girls’ education. Thanks to the foundation, 300,000 people now have access to clean drinking water through building and restoring wells across communities in Burkina Faso.

The Foundation’s Process

A representative from the foundation, Annick Thiombiano, spoke to The Borgen Project of the foundation’s process. She said, “We run a campaign of awareness to educate the people about sanitation, hygiene, and maintenance for their wells. As a community, we elect 2 women who will be in charge of the maintenance of the wells. Once the awareness campaign has been completed, we progress to finishing the water research on the site of the well, then to the drilling of the borehole, then to the analysis of the water, then to creating the support structure of the well.”


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