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Who does the unpaid work of transporting water in Tanzania?

In July 2017, globalbike director and staff visited the bike rental and repair shop that we support in partnership with an NGO called TATU. We talked with bike users there to learn first-hand about their experiences renting a bicycle.

Neema, globalbike-trained field mechanic, was working on a bicycle brought in by a young high-school aged woman, Mariam. The bike’s tire had been punctured by acacia thorns, spikes from the acacia tree often found on the edges of dirt roadsides.

Mariam uses the bicycle to source water at the local community pump. She spends 3 hours per day and 3 days a week carrying water for her family. When the local solar-powered pump runs low on energy, she is forced to source water elsewhere, often extending the time she spends fetching water.

Mariam is one of many women and girls who are responsible for sourcing water for their families. 79% of women aged 15 or older are responsible for transporting water in Tanzania, as compared to 13% of men in the same age group [1].

This gendered division of labor parallels the increasing rates of school absence among girls starting at age 14 in rural areas. A 2011 study reported that 78% of females aged 7-13 years old attend school, but this rate drastically reduces to 24% among 14 to 19 year-olds [2]. While numerous factors play a role in school absence with increasing age [3], responsibility to household work is a contributor. One survey in Tanzania found that girls who lived 15 minutes or less from a water source had higher rates of school attendance than girls who lived an hour or more from a water source [4].

This trend of women taking on a greater share of unpaid work than men is not unique to Tanzania. Globally women are responsible for more hours of unpaid household labor than men. Yet the impacts on women's potential are far more extreme in places like Tanzania where those responsibilities come at an earlier age and where women have less economic opportunities outside the home [5]. The issue is even bigger for women in rural communities, where families are less likely to have indoor plumbing and often live on lower incomes [6].

Social norms and expectations inform how unpaid work falls along gendered lines. Given this, how could women's work of carrying water be reduced so they can spend more time on productive activities and education?

globalbike is working on this issue in several ways. We donate bicycles to women's cooperatives in order to reduce women's transportation times to water. We support women's empowerment training by our partners, so that gender norms may shift and encourage men to share more evenly in unpaid household work.

To increase women's economic opportunities outside the home, globalbike provides trainings and resources to these cooperatives so they can grow, own, and profit from bike rental and repair businesses. The cooperatives make bikes available for rent at low rates, to extend those economic opportunities within their communities.

Women are disproportionately affected by the demands of sourcing water in Tanzania. What could they do if they had additional time in their day?


[1] 2011-2012. Tanzanian Household Budget Survey.

[2] 2015-2016. Tanzanian Demographic and Health Survey and Malaria Indicator Survey.

[3] 2017. Human Rights Watch. "I had a dream to finish school": Barriers to Secondary Education in Tanzania.


[5] Khazan, O. "The Scourge of the Female Chore Burden: Melinda Gates explains gender gap in unpaid labor and how it hurts the global economy." The Atlantic. Feb 23, 2016.

[6] 2006. Time Use Survey in Tanzania. Tanzanian National Bureau of Statistics.

[7] Pickering, A. and Davis, J. 2012 "Freshwater Availability and Water-Fetching Distance Affect Child Health in Sub-Saharan Africa." Environmental Science and Technology.

[8] Graham, J., Hirai, M., and Kim, S. 2016 "An Analysis of Water Collection Labor among Women and Children in 24 Sub-Saharan African Countries." PLOS ONE 11(6).


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