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Reality for Salvadoran Women: Lack of water, on top of 16 hr shift of household management

Can you imagine dedicating 16 hours a day to working around the house? It seems like an exaggeration, but if a day has 24 hours, and 16 are dedicated to housework, that leaves 8 hours, the recommended time to sleep and rest so that one can pick up the same routine the following day. In communities like that of La Javía, located in Tepecoyo, dedicating 16 hours a day to household chores is the daily routine for most women. 

One element that cannot be overlooked is the fact that household chores require clean water. For many, it seems easy and normal to turn on the tap and use water inexhaustibly, to wash dishes or clothes, cook, bathe, clean the house, etc. In La Javía, it is not that simple, especially since getting water is absolutely vital to be able to get any household chores done.

In homes where there is a water connection, it usually arrives every 2 days. During this two-day cycle, the dynamics of the household revolve around conserving as much water as possible, bathing children, and washing clothes in a way that makes the water last through the next arrival. 

Who is responsible for ensuring that all of this is accomplished?

Yes, you guessed correctly… women. Most have to avoid leaving their homes or have to give up other activities that interfere with their responsibilities on the day the water arrives. 

A woman who engages in other activities or does not completely comply with collecting water for her household, is often viewed by her family and the community, in general, as careless and irresponsible. A concretely established social norm, no matter what day or time the water arrives and regardless of any other responsibilities or activities a woman may have planned, they are required to dedicate themselves completely to this task. 

It is also worth noting that there is no specific day that the water arrives for certain. While it is true that it is expected to come every two days, it often does not and sometimes comes sooner or later. Women have to be ready to change or cancel other plans to ensure they do not miss it. 

Women stores water

This situation does not sound quite as bad in communities where they have no connection to water in their homes at all. In these places, women have to get up at approximately four in the morning, to spend two hours fetching water from the community’s public taps.

How do they do that? They use a “cantaro”. A plastic tank that they fill and carry on their head to their home. They make this trip several times until they have enough water to be able to carry out household chores for the next couple days. This task requires a lot of physical effort and is only the beginning of the rest of the day’s tasks. 

These efforts are physically exhausting for women

These efforts can often result in medical problems down the line, such as neck and back pain. Aside from the physical labor that goes into ensuring families have water, it is also not guaranteed that the quality of the water is adequate, and this impacts women’s health as well. While it is said that the water is “suitable for human consumption,” in reality, the frequent cases of intestinal parasites among these communities, demonstrates the opposite. 

Every participant who attends Programa Velasco’s (PV) Women’s Empowerment Project (WEP) from these communities has a story like the ones told above. Regardless of their daily responsibilities and the various challenges that come with them, these women still find the time and energy to attend an extracurricular program in the community, demonstrating their desire to connect with others, learn new things and ultimately, empower themselves. 

During their participation in the WEP, entrepreneurs come to understand that these responsibilities do not have to fall exclusively on them and that they do not have to feel guilty if they share their time doing other activities as well. Thinking of all the women who make an effort to bring water to their homes each day, what actions do you engage in to take care of the water that easily reaches your home each day? 

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