On my desk, next to my laptop, is a can of seltzer water. My grapefruit-flavored, bubbly water sits about four inches away from my left hand as I write. When the can is empty, I might take another from the fridge or fill up a water bottle at the kitchen sink.
Water drives my day, but I rarely think about it. I cook pasta in it. I heat water to make tea. I fill a bucket to mop the floor and a draw a bath with hot water and soak in it. At the moment, my dishwasher is growling away, and I’m waiting to hear the pleasant beep that alerts me that the clothes in the washer downstairs are clean.
I’ve never considered water a women’s issue. Not until this past week, that is. On Friday, the day before World AIDS Day 2012, I had the privilege of attending World Vision’s Strong Women, Strong World luncheon in New York City. Strong Women, Strong World is a new initiative “supporting sustainable change in some of the difficult places in the world to be a girl or a woman.” The focus of the day was water.
The Honorable Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador at-large for Global Women’s Issues, spoke at the event. She celebrated the progress humanitarian organizations such as World Vision have made in the effort to eradicate HIV/AIDS, but reminded us that the number of people living with HIV is at an all-time high. In 2010, HIV/AIDS killed 1.8 million people. Sixty percent of those living with HIV are girls and women, and AIDS is the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age (15-44 years old) globally.
“HIV,” Ambassador Verveer said, “has the face of a woman.”
A haunting image and those are staggering statistics, but you might wonder what this has to do with water. It’s cold and flu season, right? What happens when you or your child gets the flu? You stock up on electrolyte fluids, such as Pedialyte, from the drug store. You launder sheets and towels. And you wash your hands — frequently. But what if your child was sick from contaminated water? What if drinking this dirty water was your family’s only option for survival? What if fetching it from a water hole involved walking ten miles each way?
As it does mine, water drives the days of women all over the world. And when it isn’t within reach, women spend their days traveling to water sources and filling containers with often-contaminated water. This task keeps girls and women from doing other things such as going to school, tending a garden, or running a business. Traveling long distances alone to fetch it puts girls and women at risk of sexual assault and HIV. When people are sick with AIDS, their symptoms are exacerbated when they do not have access to clean water and sanitation.
In her remarks, Ambassador Verveer acknowledged that poverty is exceedingly complicated. But, initiatives such as Strong Women, Strong World which address economic development, maternal and child health, justice, and water and sanitation can and do make sustainable changes that empower girls and women in their communities so they can be the healthy, strong leaders God created them to be.
Learn much more about World Vision’s new Strong Women, Strong World initiative at strongwomenstrongworld.org.
Jennifer Grant is the author of two books on parenting and family life. She writes for Christianity Today’s her.meneutics blog for women and many other publications and websites. Grant lives with her husband and four children near Chicago. Find her online at jennifergrant.com and on Twitter @jennifercgrant.