Improving access to drinking water and sanitation for women and girls in Pacific Islander communities is the focus of new Griffith University research.

The new study – led by Dr Regina Souter from Griffith’s International Water Centre – has been granted $1.2m in funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and will see researchers working with Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and governments in the region.

Dr Regina Souter

“We are looking at how these organisations can better enable rural community-based water management in the Pacific to improve sustainable development goals around water sanitation and hygiene,” says Dr Cara Beal, principal researcher on the study and a senior lecturer in Environmental Health from Griffith’s School of Medicine.

“We already know that women and girls in these regions suffer disproportionately when it comes to access to suitable drinking water and sanitary conditions,” says Dr Beal.

Dr Cara Beal

“However, there are various cultural and religious practices in existence that mean that very often, women and girls are not receiving fair access to these basics of life.

“For example, it is often the women that collect the water in these communities and the women that are only allowed to use the toilet facilities following use by the men.

“These practices can have follow-on effects for girls who may miss out on some aspects of schooling as a result of poor health outcomes.”

“Commonly in these situations, we see poor health and wellbeing outcomes where there is poor access to safe water and sanitation facilities,” says co-researcher and Associate Professor, Environmental Health, Anne Roiko.

“This results in preventable diseases like cholera and scabies and more commonly diarrhoea, being prevalent in these situations.

“Long-term issues may include stunted growth in children as a result of poor nutrition, or issues with learning and isolation.”

The three-year study is expected to conclude with the delivery of a scientifically based set of guidelines which will underpin future strategy for women to become more heavily engaged in decision-making processes around water management.