Water safety affects the lives of women and girls in Uganda

Mama Masembe lives in Katanga a village in Kampala, Uganda.

Looking after five children, she fights for survival without running water.

There is a water tap in the neighbourhood, but Masembe has to buy a jerrycan of water at three hundred shillings which are approximately 0.087 dollars.

“A number of times my children do not bathe because we don’t have water,” she expresses, “Even mere drinking water is unaffordable for us here in Katanga”

Because they cannot afford fuel to boil drinking water she tells us it causes the children to get sick with typhoid frequently.

At times when there is drought in the country, Masembe says there are frequent acts of violence in homes and the community that make it even more unsafe for her family: “There are common fights that happen at the wells whilst people struggle to get water which makes it even that more of a  challenge for us.”

Where there is no water, there is no life.

The high population in Uganda is affecting the water and sanitation services. Out of Uganda’s population of 45 million people, 72 per cent live below the poverty line that is they cannot get 3800 shillings equivalent to a dollar a day.

Water and sanitation are fundamental rights of a human being.

Out of the population women and girls are more affected by poor water and sanitation facilities and if this is not addressed will turn into a threat to their lives.

Without water safety, women and girls become vulnerable to I’ll health. This affects their ability to live in dignity. The girl child is also affected in their education and daily life. This, therefore, calls for women to advise on solutions to respond to this basic need.

Locals struggle to get water

Speaking to a resident of Bugiri-bukasa in Kawuku off the shores of lake Victoria, she narrates her methods of looking for water.

She dreads walking to and from the lake along the lonely forested path as there have been men in the past who have tried to sexually assault her on more than one occasion.

“One time I dumped the jerry can that I had filled with water on the ground and it burst, I had to run for my life as three men were chasing me,” she exclaims, “They wanted to harm me!”

Her cousin, whom she stays with did not listen and instead told her to buy a new jerry can yet she didn’t have the money required. This caused enormity between her and the relative who owned the jerry can.

In several homesteads in Uganda, it is the women and girls who are responsible for collecting water and yet they are the most affected when water lacks. It is from this that we see women and girls being prone to unsafe surroundings an aspect of peace and security.

The adolescent struggles

For the teenage girls studying at Bugiri public school on the shores of lake Victoria, water was such a challenge until the Rotary club of Bwerenga in conjunction with national water brought piped water to the school premises.

On interacting with the teenagers at Namugonde public school in Entebbe Uganda, one Sharifah says, “life without water is almost impossible, although the school is close to the lake, the waters are so deep in this area that you cannot fetch water without the risk of falling in the lake,” She explains.

When it comes to the time of the month of the menstrual cycle, one of the girls disclosed that she has to use cloth, but worries after, how she can wash the cloth without water so she can reuse it.

“Using an unwashed cloth during menstrual periods can cause a bad stench coming from your body hence becoming a laughing stock at school and all over the village and thus losing your dignity,” States one of the pupils.

The headmaster of Bugiri public school, Ally Kiiza says he found the primary school abandoned as many children were drowning in the lake as they went to fetch water.

Because the parents are scared for their children’s lives they are continuing to withdraw their children from school as it is not safe at all.

“The teenage girls keep on dodging lessons during menstrual periods and others have even abandoned school as they don’t have dignity during their monthly periods,” the headmaster explains.

Without water, there is no peace in homes.

Nalongo a mother of two sets of twins says the lack of water in their home is causing her marriage to break.

As the water source is two kilometers away it means she isn’t always able to wash her husband’s clothes which results in her being subject to physical violence from her husband.

To make a living, her husband makes bricks. During her pregnancy, she could not walk for long distances, look after the children constantly and wash muddy clothes from her Husband daily. With such actions of violence, there is no peace and security for Nalongo.

Medical Practitioner, Dr Wasswa Lule at Kisubi medical center says that when water lacks there is no safety as this affects every age including children: “Because their Immunity systems are still developing children get sick and die from killer diseases like diarrhea, fungal infections, typhoid bilharzia and many others.”

He continues: “Women also report relapses of diseases like candidiasis, STIs (sexually transmitted infections) that deter them from working in times of illness and the long distances are time-consuming.”

This contributes to poverty as women and girls waste a lot of time walking which is time that would have been used for other economic activities the doctor shares.

The United Nations in action

The United Nations calls for embedding gender equity at all costs,  to achieve safe water and sanitation. The UN urgently calls for women and girls to have water services in place as this is important for women’s daily comfort and thus an important aspect of peace and security for women in society.

Lack of access to proper water and sanitation contributes to the general productivity of women in agriculture.

Statistics show that the general production of women is 20-30 percent lower than men on average FAO 2017 yet agriculture is one of the main economic activities in the world. This further leads to low food production leading to hunger and destabilizing peace and security.

Due to the lack of safe water, it has been reported that there are 1 million deaths each year due to infections got at birth. On top of that, there are also high maternal death rates according to the UNICEF 2019 report.

Sustainable Development Programs

The government of Uganda is aiming to get involved in sustainable measures to balance the water human consumption and natural water consumption to save human lives, especially in rural areas if they are to enable peace and security.

The local council chairman, Kaala Fredrick of Bugiri Bukasa in Katabi calls upon the government of Uganda and international organizations to educate the authorities in Uganda on the use and management of water to have safe water for all a major drive to achieving peace and security.

A few sustainable development programs are coming up in Uganda to address the water problem that is hindering peace and security in the country.

The Uganda Women’s water initiative is benefiting more than 300 women in Gomba in Uganda. This project is offering techniques for water safety inclusive of rainwater harvesting and water filters.

In Northern Uganda, there is a project for safe clean water education on sanitation and hygiene under the International lifeline fund.

As part of achieving sustainable development goals, UNESCO is working with different organisations in Uganda.

The National Coalition for UNESCO (UNATCOM) in Uganda has several members who are the secretariat of the National Hydraulic Program.

There is an eight-year strategy of UNESCO from 2014-2021 to improve water security in response to the challenges that were presented. The IHP is to enhance innovative methods, tools and approaches as well as build competencies to meet the challenges of water nationally and globally.

Some projects are being completed for example IUIU in partnership with UNATCOM under UNESCO completed an ICESCO-funded wash project in northern Uganda on 23rd May 2022. There is also a water permit system policy reform and implications for equity in Uganda.

During my interview with the public relations Officer of UNICEF Uganda, Catherine Ntabadde she says that UNICEF( United nations immunization children’s Education Fund) is currently addressing the consequences of unsafe water and hygiene among children, and adolescents as well who are most of the time excluded.

Their main goal is that every child thrives in a safe environment as they acquire skills while learning and that every child has safe water and lives in a safe environment where they can build their skill and lead a purposeful life.

This story is part of the African Women in Media (AWiM) Peace and Security Journalism Programme in partnership with UNESCO, through the IPDC framework.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest Blogs

PRESS RELEASE: Kigali Declaration Adopted at AWiM23

Vacancy: Training and course development consultant on Developing and implementing gender responsive policies in media organisations

Water safety affects the lives of women and girls in Uganda

Follow Us







C.E.O & Co-founder, AWiM

Dr Yemisi Akinbobola is an award-winning journalist, academic, consultant and co-founder of African Women in Media (AWiM). AWiM’s vision is that one-day African women will have equal access to representation in media. Joint winner of the CNN African Journalist Award 2016 (Sports Reporting), Yemisi ran her news website IQ4News between 2010-14.
Yemisi holds a PhD in Media and Cultural Studies from Birmingham City University, where she is a Senior Lecturer. She has published scholarly research on women’s rights, African feminism, and journalism and digital public spheres. She was Editorial Consultant for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 commemorative book titled “She Stands for Peace: 20 Years, 20 Journeys”, and currently hosts the book’s podcast.
She speaks regularly on issues relating to gender and media. In 2021 she was recognized as one of 100 Most Influential African Women.