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Hatchet file photo.

Hatchet file photo.

A researcher in the Milken School of Public Health found that nearly 17 million women and children in 24 sub-Saharan African countries are responsible for collecting water and carrying it long distances home – a task that may harm their health – according to a press release.

Although other studies have looked at the lack of access to clean water in these countries, Jay Graham, a professor of environmental and occupational health in the Milken school, and his colleagues were the first to look at the “absolute number affected and the gender imbalance in water collection labor,” a task that often takes more than 30 minutes per trip, according to the release.

“The journey to collect water every day harms health, uses up limited human energy and takes time away from other opportunities,” Graham said in the release. “By reducing the distance to water – preferably by having water piped to each property – many women and girls would be freed up for work, school or other activities.”

The researchers looked at data from international survey programs and determined that adult women were the primary collectors of water across the 24 countries, from 46 percent in Liberia to 90 percent in Cote d’Ivoire, according to the release.

Graham said in the release that carrying the heavy jugs of water, weighing 40 pounds or more, can cause health problems like pressure on the skeletal system that can lead to early arthritis or spinal pain.

Researchers also found that girls were much more likely than boys to be responsible for water collection – 62 percent and 38 percent respectively, according to the release. The effects on children included health problems like exposure to unclean water that can lead to serious diseases and missing school.

Graham added that women and girls are more prone to sexual violence while on water collection trips.

“We didn’t look at the underlying reason for the gender imbalance in water collection,” Graham said in the release. “However, in some African countries collecting water is considered a low status job and often falls to women and girls.”

Graham and the other researchers created a new metric that “allows public health leaders to plug in numbers of females versus males to get the gender ratio of water collectors,” according to the release. Graham added that he hopes his study will allow these public health leaders to take a closer look at the gender imbalance and attempt to fix it.

“Our study suggests water collection by children and gender ratios should be considered when measuring a nation’s progress toward providing better access to water,” Graham said in the release.

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Mary Ellsberg, vice president for research and programs at the International Center for Research on Women, will lead GW's Global Women's Institute in the fall. Photo courtesy of the Office of Media Relations

An expert in research on gender and sexual health will head GW’s Global Women’s Institute, the University announced Thursday.

After a yearlong search, Mary Ellsberg was tapped to lead the University’s first institute on gender issues when it launches this fall. She will come to GW Aug. 1 after serving as vice president for research and programs at the nonprofit International Center for Research on Women.

“GW has such an impressive track record of research, education and policy engagement, as well as distinguished and deeply committed faculty to global women’s issues,” Ellsberg said in a release. “I am honored to have the opportunity to contribute to shaping the agenda of the new Global Women’s Institute.”

Through research and teaching on women’s health, education, rights and security, the institute will look to push gender equality as a top University research initiative.

University President Steven Knapp sparked the creation of the center after seeing women’s rights oppression during a trip to Saudi Arabia in 2009.

A University-wide task force brought together various women’s rights efforts to create the institute. Barbara Miller, associate dean for faculty affairs in the Elliott School of International Affairs, led the search committee for the new institute’s leader with the help of professional search firm Isaacson, Miller.

Administrators picked Ellsberg to lead the center for her research clout, Provost Steven Lerman said in a release. Ellsberg oversees the International Center for Research on Women portfolio on economic development, gender, violence and rights, gender and HIV and gender, stigma and discrimination.

“Mary has demonstrated how research can be employed to advance women’s rights and well-being, and I am confident that she will ensure that the work of our students and scholars has an impact in ensuring equality,” Lerman said.

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