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The weight of water – and the significance of leisure

Posted by Hazel Bedford Wednesday, March 21, 2012

World Water Day 2012
The weight of water – and the significance of leisure

While I was chewing my pencil over how to start on this blog, I googled “how much does water weigh?” And I was pretty surprised at some of the answers, including that the question was incorrect and that water’s weight depends on its temperature.

Senegal: Pascaline Bampoky carries home a bucket of water

What I was really trying to estimate was how heavy the bucket of water Pascaline Bampoky is carrying in the photo would be. If she’s carrying about 20 litres of water – then the answer is about 20 kilogrammes. The only time I lift that sort of weight is when I heave my suitcase onto the airport scales.

For millions of women – especially young women – across the developing world, water means heavy loads and hours of drudgery. Every day one of their jobs is to walk long distances, often across unsafe areas, lugging home buckets, jars or plastic containers of water for household needs.

Obviously they are not the strongest members of the family – but they are mostly the ones with the lowest status. And so the task falls to them.

Here are some sourced stats, if you need them to be convinced. In rural Guinea women spend 3 and half times longer than men fetching water every day.[1] In rural Benin, girls spend an hour a day collecting water, while boys spend 25 minutes. [2]

When the load is lightened
There are also studies looking at how women use their time when water supplies are improved and brought closer to home. The results are thought-provoking.

School enrolment and attainment does improve for girls – much more so than for boys. And in some places, women spend more time in market-related activities when they don’t have to fetch and carry water.[3]

But several studies also show that women use some of the time they save for something potentially life-changing but difficult to measure – and that something is leisure.

That got me thinking about how many different ways women might use their free time – and still call it leisure.

Some might sit in the shade and talk to their friends – and who knows where that might lead ;) Others might study, visit a relative or even play with their children. Or they might choose to use their time for a task in the home that they want to do.

What makes it leisure is that they have the choice.

Women’s freedom to choose how they spend at least some of their time is a key strand in their empowerment – that slippery objective that is difficult to define and difficult to achieve, but still right at the top of our agenda.


[1] World Bank: World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development, page 299.
[2] WDR 2012, page 111.
[3] WDR 2012, page 299.

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