#Handwashing and COVID-19: Women and Access to Water

*By Pedi Obani, Ph.D.


Image credit: @rokku_r on instagram

Hand washing has been identified as a key measure for reducing the spread of COVID-19. However, compliance will be limited in settings where there are concerns over the quality, reliability or quantity of water supply. Indeed, guidance on hand washing, use of hand sanitizers and other hygiene measures are mostly futile when people have to make hard choices between using the limited water supply for drinking, food preparation or hygiene. This is the dilemma faced by the 3 billion people who lack access to water and soap at home across the world. Beyond the important general public health dimension, access to water is also critical for maternal and child health, with life-threatening implications for women during, and after childbirth.

While it is not clear how many of the billions living without access to water, soap and other hygiene materials at home are women, it is evident that a majority are poor people, and often women comprise a large section of these vulnerable communities. Moreover, the responsibility for sourcing clean water for personal and domestic hygiene purposes rests predominantly on women and girls in many developing countries. This is in addition to their role as primary care givers in domestic settings. Women living without access to water further have to deal with the difficulty of menstrual hygiene management.