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Safe Water and Toilets: The Foundation for Empowering Women

April 01, 2013

What would your life be like if you had to walk 3.7 miles each day for water and wait for the cover of darkness to relieve yourself? It’s hard to even imagine.

Yet this is today’s reality for millions of women and girls in developing countries around the world. (Water Facts.)

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Solutions are simple, affordable, and available now. Since 1990, has been working in partnership with women around the world, empowering them to take control of their own water and sanitation solutions. 

 While this crisis affects everyone, the burden falls overwhelmingly (and literally) on the shoulders of women and girls.

Globally, one in eight people lack a reliable, safe source of water. More than twice as many people don’t have a sanitary toilet. While this crisis affects everyone, the burden falls overwhelmingly (and literally) on the shoulders of women and girls. They are the ones walking miles or waiting hours in line for water which is often not safe, carrying vessels that weigh up to 44 pounds.

As a result, women are unable to earn an income, girls are unable to attend school, and the cycle of disease, poverty, and lost opportunity continues. (This Lifecycle of a Woman infographic by Voss Foundation, a funding partner, illustrates this point.)

At, our vision is universal access to safe water and sanitation – in our lifetime. Recognizing that philanthropy alone will not get us there, pioneered a novel approach called WaterCredit in 2003. WaterCredit brings together microfinance and water and sanitation. By facilitating small loans for water connections and toilets, WaterCredit not only empowers people as customers and owners of their own solutions, it also exponentially increases the amount of funding available to help people obtain these two basic necessities.

To date, more than 104,600 WaterCredit loans have been made across three continents, benefitting 590,000 people. Global repayment rates are 99 percent. More than 89 percent of borrowers are women. (More metrics: WaterCredit Executive Summary.)

One of these women is Surbani (right), who lives in Salepur slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with her husband and four daughters. Previously, she collected water two to three times per day from a public standpost; each trip took an hour or more. After learning about WaterCredit from’s local partner, DSK, Surbani played an instrumental role in forming a community-based organization in order to take out a loan. Eight months from the loan application, the new tubewell was complete, and life was forever changed for Surbani and her four daughters. Today, Surbani has time to work, generating income that can help pay for school for her daughters, and she has new respect in her home and in her community.

Thanks to the support of organizations such as Johnson & Johnson, Catapult, and countless caring individuals, has empowered more than one million people around the world with safe water and sanitation. In the process, this has provided the most essential and basic foundation for women’s empowerment. I invite you to join us:

This was originally published on Women Deliver's blog.

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