02/14/2013 10:11 pm ET Updated Apr 16, 2013

Why Water Can't Wait

This post was originally published on

This morning before I went to school, I spent about ten minutes tidying my room in an attempt to appease my mom in her quest for cleanliness. After half-heartedly chipping away at the piles of clutter that were strewn around my room, I felt satisfied and began to prepare for school. Leaving my chore unfinished came with few consequences other than a slightly agitated parent and an increasingly decrepit bedroom.

Thousands of miles away in countries across the globe, millions of girls do not have the luxury to ignore their chores like I do. Instead, their families rely on these girls to spend hours of their days collecting water from faraway or unreliable sources. The time that these girls spend, which the organization estimates collectively clocks in around 200 million hours a day, takes girls away from the schooling and consistent education they need to succeed.

So, many would think, a simple way to get girls back in school is to just build closer water sources. This approach has proven to be successful in many regions. In Tanzania, the United Nations reports, when water sources were moved within 15 minutes of girls' homes, their school attendance increased by 12 percent while boy's school attendance increased by far less.
Still, moving a well does not always address the root issue that keeps girls out of school; that often times, communities do not value their women or see the purpose in giving them an education in the first place.

The reason that women and girls make up over 76 percent of those who collect water is not because they are better equipped to walk the arduous miles to water sources or to carry heavy jugs of water. Instead, many communities view women as disposable commodities that can be easily dispensed to perform backbreaking and dangerous tasks. Even in some regions where children are not relied on to collect water, many girls are still kept out of school at much higher rates than their male peers.

In a 2005 United Nations report on women's role in water collection, researchers found that organizations that coupled their water development projects with gender education and empowerment classes created much greater advances in women's education and community involvement than organizations that went in and set up wells without a focus on gender equality. Still, gender empowerment and building wells must be concurrent. Even if a woman is empowered and a community is ready to value her, her potential for success is lost if she must still walk miles away to far-off water sources.

Again, an international issue is more intricate than it might first appear. Luckily, there are organizations that are willing to sift through the complexity to find solutions to this problem. One innovative approach I have seen is the organization Decode Global's mobile app and game, Get Water. In the game, players must help a young girl collect water so she can return to school. Meanwhile, users learn more about the water crisis effecting women through insightful factoids. In order for Get Water to get on its feet and begin to create change, it needs support through its fundraising site.

The important part of this game is that it fosters a dialogue about the disproportionate affect a lack of water has on a woman's education. The biggest question the game poses to the player and to us all is: why are women being pulled out of school while their male classmates are allowed to stay and learn? The answer to this question may be the wellspring that could save many generations of women from future inequities.