Each year since 1913, International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8. CH2M HILL’s Susan Mays shares some of the events women in the water industry participated in as part of this year’s celebration.

By: Susan Mays, CH2M HILL Vice President, Marketing and Strategic Initiatives

International Women’s Day has been celebrated worldwide since the early 1900s, and it was first observed in the United States in 1913. Since then, it’s grown to include thousands of events worldwide. In the U.S., the entire month of March is celebrated as Women’s History Month.

In our corporate headquarters community of Denver, Colo., about 20 employees – most from the Denver chapter of our Women’s Network – got the chance to see CH2M HILL President and Chief Executive Officer Jacqueline Hinman recognized at two separate celebrations:

  • The first took place Thursday night, where Jacque and award-winning film director Gabriela Gowperthwaite discussed the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) training for women and girls and how diversity of thought leads to better outcomes. The event was produced by the Biennial of the Americas in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and the Denver Film Society.
  • The second was a luncheon on Friday, where Jacque was honored by WorldDenver with the first-ever Women Leading Change award for 30 years of contributions to the engineering and construction industry and for her achievement in joining the ranks of women leading Fortune 500 companies. The Women Leading Change Around the World event was co-sponsored by the Consulate General of Canada in Denver.

I’ve been around the water industry for 25 years. I remember being the only woman in the room. From time to time, that’s still the case. And from time to time, there’s a line for the ladies room – a sign that we’ve definitely come a long way, baby. In much of the world, this isn’t the case. And that’s worth recognizing on International Women’s Day too.

According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, women and girls bear the primary responsibility for water collection in the vast majority of households in 45 developing countries. Women and girls spend about two-thirds of their waking hours collecting water from distant – often polluted – sources. On average, women and girls carry 40 pounds of water 3.5 miles every day, hindering their opportunity to work in an income-generating job, care for family, or attend school. This video from Water For People shares a perspective on the linkage between water and women.

Sanitation is a particular concern for women and girls, who in addition to having different physical needs have a greater need for privacy when menstruating – a topic that is rarely discussed and remains taboo in many cultures.  And they disproportionately face risks of violence when walking long distances (on average 300 meters) to sanitation facilities. With access to both clean water and sanitation, girls are more likely to attend school in the first place, and more girls are likely to stay in school after puberty to complete their educations.

With the support of CH2M HILL and all of the major U.S. water associations, Water For People hopes to create a world where everyone has access to clean water and sanitation – a world where girls can carry books instead of water and where women can provide more than just water for their families.

International Women’s Day is designed to celebrate all women. I choose to salute all the women working in water today.

Susan M. Mays is Vice President, Marketing & Strategic Initiatives in CH2M HILL’s Operations Management Services group. She chairs the Denver chapter of CH2M HILL’s Women’s Network and represents two dozen Women’s Network chapters from around the world on the company’s Global Diversity Council. She tweets about water-related issues, including women and water, as @WaterMizz.