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How innovative water solutions can give women their time back


More and more people around the world are being forced to survive with limited access to clean water, and the burden of collecting water usually falls on the shoulders of women and girls.

Woman hanging clothes

Uniquely positioned to help

It is estimated that women spend 200 million hours every single day collecting water: time they could use to learn new skills, earn a living or contribute to their communities. This is an obstacle for the advancement of women’s rights, empowerment and economic inclusion.

Through the Enhancing Livelihoods pillar of our Sustainable Living Plan, our ambition is to empower 5 million women by 2020. With our portfolio of health and hygiene brands, expertise in behaviour change and global reach, we are uniquely placed to help improve access to, and sustainable use of, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

In particular, we have the scale and expertise to develop innovations that will help people cope with poor quality or unreliable water access. Here are two examples of those innovations.

Reducing the burden of unpaid care work

Surf has announced a unique three-year partnership with Oxfam that aims to recognise, reduce and redistribute the amount of time spent by women and girls on unpaid care work. This includes laundry, cooking, cleaning and collecting water. In some parts of the world, this takes up as much as six hours a day.

We’ll do this by:

  • Helping society recognise that household tasks are limiting choices for women through raising awareness of the issue.
  • Building water infrastructure and running initiatives that make household tasks easier and faster, freeing up time for women to spend on things that matter most to them.
  • Working with communities, governments and companies to drive a change in attitudes and the perception of women’s roles, so that household tasks are shared more fairly between women and men.

The programme, which is the first of its kind, will run in the Philippines and Zimbabwe, directly changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It will also reach millions globally, promoting activities focused on recognising the impact unpaid care work has on women and girls’ lives.

Analia Mendez, Global Director, Social Mission Expertise, Home Care, says: “Collaboration is the key to making a real difference on development issues and this programme is a great example of partnership, combining Oxfam’s proven methodologies in addressing unpaid care work and our expertise in marketing, technology and consumer insights.”

Increasing availability in water-scarce regions

Unilever’s dishwash brand Sunlight is partnering with TechnoServe and Oxfam to roll out Sunlight Water Centres in Nigeria. The centres make clean water more accessible in water-scarce regions, helping reduce the time spent collecting water, as well as preventing the use of dirty water. Local women are trained to run the centres, providing skills and an opportunity to earn an income.

Following the success of its first two Water Centres, Sunlight opened eight more in Nigeria over 2015–16. Our goal is to launch 1,000 centres, each of which reaches 160 households (1,200 individuals), which means that over the long term this could help over 1 million people.

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