Steve ran across this talk he gave at the UN a few years back on “Women and Water in South Sudan.” Thought you might enjoy hearing it. 

“Distinguished Attendees – What is the greatest invention of the 20th century?

Before the invention of the washing machine, WOMEN gathered water from a pipe, lake, river, well – it required 8-10 trips per day, then the water had to be heated, poured into a tub with soap, and then the real work started.

The washing machine, piped gas, running water, and all these mundane household technologies enabled women to enter the labor market, which then meant that they had fewer children, had them later, invested more in each of them, especially female children. That changed their bargaining positions within the household and in wider society, giving women votes and endless changes. It has transformed the way we live.

Ha-Joon Chang, a South Korean Economist, suggests that simple labor-saving inventions, the kind we pay little attention to, have reduced household labor from 60 hours/week to 3-4. Is he right? I have no idea, but I do know this…if women in the developed west were still spending 6,8,10,12, 15 hours per day managing the home, collecting water, cleaning clothes, gathering food items and then cooking them and then cleaning up afterward and then getting the clothes around for the next day and then… and then… and then…

We would not see more women in college today than men. 

There would be no women at this UN gathering. 

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 200,000,000 hours are spent each day collecting water, 40,000,000,000 hours/year. I hear that 71% of water gathering is done by women in Africa. I don’t know how that number was arrived at because I have rarely seen a man collecting water.

Given that women raise 75% of the crops, 50% of the livestock, and yet collect only 10% of the income and own a mere 1% of the assets in Africa…

There is a great deal of talk these days about slavery as well there should be…

But I suggest: Unless we free women from the slavery of daily household chores, how will they ever change the statistics I just gave?

Unless women occupy key decision-making positions, who will free them? In 2012 only 6% of ministerial positions within government environment and natural resource departments were held by women. 

Unless women are seen as partners rather than competitors in the labor marketplace, we will not see their many hours of toil for the waste that it is. 

As Lakshmi Puri said at this very United Nations, ‘Development is neither sustainable nor inclusive if it does not free women and girls from the burden of carrying heavy buckets of water every day.’

At WiB we drill boreholes. It is not sexy but it frees women, and I’m very pleased with what that will mean 100 years from now!”