Violence against women is also: Lack of access to gender-specific sanitary services

Sanitary Services Action Against Hunger



As of yesterday, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and until December 10th, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is a global campaign to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.

Violence against women is one of the biggest causes of injury and death to women worldwide, causing more deaths and disability for women ages 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war. In other words, it’s an epidemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

However, violence against women goes beyond the physical. Violence can be physical, sexual, psychological. Violence can include limiting autonomy, decision-making power and access to certain resources.

For these 16 days, we are highlighting 16 different types of violence that women and girls experience beyond the physical.

You can take action against gender-based violence:


Day 2 – Violence Against Women is also: Lack of access to gender-specific sanitary services

According to the United Nations, 60% of the world’s undernourished population are women. What’s important, however, is not just “how do we eliminate hunger for women” but rather “why are more women suffering from malnutrition than men in the first place?” While there are many factors at play, it is often because women eat last and least.


Neglecting the basic needs of women during humanitarian crisis

The UNHCR currently estimates that there are 65.3 million refugees worldwide, where the majority are made up of women and children. Yet, when it comes to sanitation, water and hygiene within refugee camps, gender differences are often overlooked. Women are often hit the hardest, when compared to men and children. This is primarily because women are usually responsible for collecting water and preparing food. The lack of access to close water collection points means miles of walking and waiting in queues to receive buckets of water that then need to be carried back. This not only takes up time, but is physically exhausting for many women. Women are also bear the burden of childcare, which involves tending to their children’s needs and washing clothes. The lack of an adequate source of water can significantly inhibit their ability to complete daily tasks.

Finally, women have distinct health and sanitary needs that cannot be ignored, with pregnant women being amongst the most vulnerable. Women in refugee shelters need access to sanitary pads, and often turn to using cloth due to the lack of supplies. Aside from the access to sanitation, the requirement for safe sanitation is also vital in ensuring women are can make use of services. Many women tend to avoid using bathrooms that are dimly lit or in remote and unsupervised areas, due to the fear of being assaulted. Overall, these barriers to safe sanitary services and water is vital in maintaining the well being of female refugees.


Through the gender lens: Understanding the importance of water and sanitation

Action Against Hunger’s water, sanitation and hygiene policy stresses that women need to be included as decision makers from the beginning to the end of a project. This means accounting for the social and cultural factors that affect a woman’s access to water and sanitation. Women are employed in hygiene promotion and education, hence breaking down the socio-cultural barriers and giving them a sense of agency and control over the resource.

Our water and sanitation programs are also adapted to suit the specific needs of women, men girls and boys. Action Against Hunger acknowledges that women are usually perform housework and care for children, hence that access to water and sanitation is vital in facilitating their tasks. For example, lack of access to water is directly linked to the increase time and effort spent in walking to water collection points and back, at the expense of more productive and educational activities. Women are therefore involved as members of water communities in order to be able to voice their specific needs.



Hawo and her son.

Hawo Abdi, a 29-year-old widow and mother of five children, was a farmer whose arid lands suffered from the severe drought. She told us: “Back home, I had a farm where we grew maize for the family to eat—and we always had enough to eat. But the rains failed for four seasons; we could not cope anymore.”

In search of food and water, Hawo and her children left their home in Alafuto, Somalia, and made the two-day journey to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. While on the move, she did not know where the next meal would come from or if she would find access to clean drinking water. As water sources dry up and sanitary and hygiene conditions worsen, the risk of deadly waterborne diseases such as severe diarrhea or cholera increases. There have been massive cholera outbreaks in Somalia this year, and in towns and urban areas, where families have to purchase their water, prices have recently quadrupled, costing them the equivalent of between five to twenty dollars for a supply of 200 liters of water.

Hawo remembers how hard the trip was: “We stayed without food for several days. We had nothing to take with us, and we had to beg for water.” Hawo’s husband died when she was two months pregnant with her youngest child; she had to make the journey while expecting a baby, which was scary and difficult. She and her children have been living in the Kaxda camp for internally displaced people outside Mogadishu for a month. “It has been difficult without my husband. He would help me a lot. Now we have no money. The children have no food or milk,” Hawo said.

Hawo’s baby son, Ali, became emaciated and severely malnourished. He was not even six months old. “I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I felt like I failed as a mother. But another mother told me to go to the stabilization center because she had a child who sick for the same reason and got treatment. So I ran here as fast as I could,” said Hawo.

Thanks to your support, Action Against Hunger runs an emergency nutrition stabilization center in Hodan, Mogadishu, which provides urgent treatment for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. It also meant that Hawo could finally have access to sanitary services and clean water.


Ensure moms like Hawo receive the sanitation services they need.