Nicky Morgan MP: Invest aid budget in water and sanitation to transform women's lives
Women and girls are detrimentally impacted by a lack of taps and toilets, and the impact on girls is particularly harsh when it comes to schools, says Nicky Morgan MP.
Talking about taps, toilets and periods isn’t glamorous. Yet we must talk about them, and more importantly take action, if women and girls around the world are to reach their full potential.
Globally, 1 in 10 people don’t have clean water, and 1 in 3 people don’t have a decent toilet. It is a health crisis which claims the lives of 289,000 children under five each year, and which leaves girls and women burdened and at risk, from the moment of birth into their old age.
That is why I’m so pleased to be speaking at the Conservative Women Organisation and WaterAid reception at Conservative conference in Manchester on Monday evening, to help highlight and raise support for this hugely important issue.
Access to water and sanitation is a basic need and a human right. It is also fundamental to progress in other areas of development- including education and health. When we look at how women and girls are detrimentally impacted by a lack of taps and toilets, the impact on girls is particularly harsh when it comes to schools.
As a former Secretary of State for Education, I am acutely aware of the role that a good education plays in children leading happy and fulfilled lives.
I was therefore shocked to learn that nearly one-third of schools worldwide don’t have clean water. Staggeringly, in sub-Saharan Africa, over 50% of schools don’t have clean water. Imagine it: little children unable to have a clean drink of water or to go to a safe, private toilet during an entire school day. And children whose first chore at school in the morning is not to hang up their coat, or settle into their desks for learning, but hiking down to a river with heavy pails to bring dirty water to school, because it is the only option available.
Thirsty children cannot learn, nor can children who are worried about where they might be able to relieve themselves. And children who are ill from dirty water or because they cannot wash their hands with soap are often unable to go to school at all.
The need for basic infrastructure such as taps and toilets as building blocks for a safe and fulfilling education is just so fundamental. And yet without it, the daily task of collecting water dominates the lives of many children, usually girls. Some children have to spend as many as six hours a day collecting water, leaving little or no time to go to school; they are likely to miss out on their education entirely.
For those girls who do manage to attend school, they are faced with a new problem when they begin menstruating. Without a decent toilet at school, where they can change their menstrual cloths and stay clean, they’re likely to stay home during their periods. Combine that barrier with the widespread cultural taboos around menstruation, and girls are much more likely to experience shame and embarrassment, and eventually to drop out of school entirely.
Without safe water, private and safe toilets that lock and somewhere for girls to wash their hands with soap at school, access to education cannot ever be equal. Governments around the world need to pay attention, and take action, on these issues.
Education for young people everywhere is an area I am particularly passionate about. As a constituency MP, only a few weeks ago I was proud to meet some of my own constituents from a local school, Limehurst Academy, who were speaking out on the importance of an education for every single child all over the world, as part of the fantastic “Send My Friend to School” campaign, which WaterAid and many other organisations are part of.
The importance of this issue has also been raised with me by the internationally-renowned Water, Engineering and Development Centre, which is based at Loughborough University in my constituency. They are one of the world’s leading education and research institutes for developing knowledge and capacity on the vital issue of water and sanitation for low- and middle-income countries.
However, in my current role as Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, I am also mindful of the critical importance of value for money. We should make no mistake: our UK aid has a transformative impact on people’s lives, and saves lives, and for that we should all be proud. However, we all need to keep working to ensure that every single penny of taxpayers’ money always delivers good value. Investing in water and sanitation is an enormously cost-effective use of our aid budget. According to the World Health Organization, for every £1 spent on improving access to water and sanitation, an estimated £4 is returned to the economy.
No girl should be held back for the lack of something as simple as clean water and toilets. Taps, toilets and periods are not glamorous subjects – but addressing these needs properly can transform the lives of women and girls around the world.
Girls deserve no less. And as a global development leader, the UK Government has the power to bring about this change.
Join me on Monday 2nd October at 5.45pm at Conservative Conference, where I will be joined by Rt Hon Rory Stewart and voices from those on the ground in Asia and Africa to discuss exactly what the UK Government and parliamentarians can be doing to better reach women and girls with water and sanitation, and help them reach their full potential.
Nicky Morgan is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Loughborough