Creating Solutions for Women + Water

Creating Solutions for Women + Water Treating water as a human right

Few resources are as essential to people’s health and well-being as water; we believe clean, safe water is both an environmental issue and a basic human right. Water is also critical to our business—it is used to cultivate raw materials like cotton, consumed in the mills and laundries that manufacture our products and used by consumers when they wash their clothes.

 

We strive to ensure that the process of making our clothes is safe for people and communities, and we’re working directly with women to help them gain access to clean, safe water.

In recent years, decreasing availability of safe, clean water has become a significant global challenge. Since 2015, the World Economic Forum has ranked the water crisis as one of the top five global risks in terms of impact.

It affects many people: One-third of the world’s population lives in countries with poor water quality or where there is not enough water. That ratio is expected to reach two-thirds by 2025. By 2030, it is estimated that demand for clean water will exceed supply by 40%. Climate change is exacerbating the water crisis, contributing to more frequent and severe droughts, storms and floods, which affect livelihoods and increase the risk of waterborne diseases. The issue of water is so important that the UN identified the need to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation as Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, which is one of the 17 SDGs.

As a business that relies on water to create our products in communities where people need access to water for their daily lives, water stewardship is a core pillar of the Gap Inc. sustainability strategy. To help build the resilience of our company, our supply chain and the people who make our clothes, we strategically address water use, water contamination and education about water and sanitation.

Our Women + Water strategy is aimed at reducing impacts in three primary ways: 

  • Building awareness and educating the women who make our clothes about safe water-handling practices, and by increasing their access to safe water (read more below) 
  • Partnering with fabric mills and laundries to reduce manufacturing impacts (read more in our section on reducing impacts at mills)  
  • Adopting more water-efficient product design and sourcing practices (read more in our section on product sustainability)

Women and girls globally spend more than 200 million hours collecting water each day—time that could be spent earning additional income, caring for their families or getting an education. 

Our Focus on Women: Awareness, Education and Access

Of crucial importance is how water affects the people who make our clothes—roughly 80% of whom are women. These women need water to care for themselves, their families and their communities. Unfortunately, access to clean, safe water is a major challenge in many of our key sourcing countries, according to basin-level water risk mapping through WRI’s Aqueduct tool, and issues such as population growth and climate change exacerbate the crisis. In water-stressed areas, poor and marginalized communities are affected the most. In India, groundwater pollution from agricultural and industrial activities and poor sanitation represent a root cause of water-quality issues that increase health and mortality risks. In China, 80% of water from underground wells is unfit for drinking or bathing because of contamination from industry and farming.

Our Women + Water strategy is focused on the intersection between our industry’s significant use of water and the basic right people have to clean, safe water. In many parts of the world, women are largely responsible for household duties such as cooking and cleaning; they shoulder a disproportionate burden when it comes to water stress. According to UNICEF, women and girls globally spend more than 200 million hours collecting water each day—time that could be spent earning additional income, caring for their families or getting an education. Women and children also face serious health risks due to inadequate access to safe water and sanitation, which is sometimes worsened by a limited understanding of healthy hygiene practices. 

We recognize that water resource management is multifaceted, requiring diverse solutions. To make holistic change at the individual, organizational, community and systems levels, we need to coordinate efforts across business, government and civil society. In addition to focusing on education and awareness, we also partner with organizations to improve secure access to clean, safe water. 

Our supply chain connects us to many of these women and their communities, giving us an opportunity to help improve their access to water and help them manage water issues. We support women and communities in two main ways: through our P.A.C.E. program, which includes curriculum about health and safe water-handling practices, and through partnerships with experts to address other systemic challenges, such as access to clean, safe water.

With our expansion of P.A.C.E., and the goal to reach 1 million women and girls by the end of 2020, we are eager to reach even more women with effective strategies for managing water issues.

Women and water

P.A.C.E. and the USAID Women + Water Global Development Alliance

In 2014, we introduced water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) curriculum to our P.A.C.E. program, which supports the women who make our clothes in gaining the skills and confidence to advance in work and life. With our expansion of P.A.C.E., and the goal to reach 1 million women and girls by the end of 2020, we are eager to reach even more women with effective strategies for managing water issues

In 2017, we announced a significant new partnership: a five-year collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to improve access to clean water and sanitation services for the women touched by the apparel industry. We are expanding our P.A.C.E. program in India to teach safe water-handling practices, alongside our longstanding partners CARE and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). We will also support access to clean water and sanitation with our partner Water.org, and we will work to manage local water resources sustainably, in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Communities.

Our partnership with USAID is designed to support women and communities as they learn about WASH practices, while also developing leadership skills. This supports women as they take initiative to incorporate improved water infrastructure in their communities. Our partnerships take this program beyond education to provide the essential hard goods, such as toilets and filters, needed in the home and to provide neighborhoods with clean water access.

The views expressed on this website reflect the opinions of Gap Inc., and are entirely our own. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or the United States Government. USAID is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied herein.