For International Women’s Day, we honor those who have championed water quality and sanitation
Access to clean water and sanitation is essential for maintaining good health, food security, and a thriving economy. Yet millions of people around the world do not have that access. Without clean water and sanitation, women and girls are more at risk of being abused, attacked, or suffering from health issues. That can affect their ability to attend school, work, or live a dignified life.
Expanding access to safe drinking water and sanitation not only improves the future of millions of girls and women around the world but also promotes good health for everyone.
The good news is that women are stepping up to ensure that the world’s water resources are protected and managed sustainably. Let’s take a look at some of those making waves in the water industry.
Women in Water Science
The Stockholm Water Prize — often referred to as the Nobel Prize for water — has been awarded to thought leaders in water research since 1991. Honorees include four women.
Rita Colwell (2010)
Colwell is a United States environmental microbiologist who studies infectious diseases. She is the founder and chair of the bioinformatics company CosmosID. Colwell was the first female director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), serving from 1998 to 2004. She supported increasing the number of women in science and doubled the funding of the NSF ADVANCE program, which promotes the advancement of women in science.
Colwell received the Stockholm Water Prize for contributions toward solving water-related public health issues, particularly eradicating diseases in developing countries.
Joan Rose (2016)
Rose holds the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University. She won the Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize awarded by the National Water Research Institute in 2001, and used a portion of the prize money to set up the Rose Water Fellowship at MSU.
She won the International Water Association’s Hei-jin Woo Award in 2008. In recognition of her contributions to improving water quality and public health, Rose was elected a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering in 2011. In 2015, she was granted honorary citizenship by the government of Singapore in recognition of her work on the country’s water quality and water infrastructure. She won the Stockholm Water Prize for contributions to public health.
Jackie King (2019)
King is a South African aquatic ecologist recognized for her work on environmental flows and water management. Her early work contributed to South Africa’s 1998 National Water Act and has guided water management in southern Africa. In 2003, King was given the National Women in Water Award by the South African government in recognition of her work on environmental flows.
In 2016, she won the Gold Medal from the Southern African Society of Aquatic Scientists for her lifetime contributions to water science, with the Living Planet Award from the World Wide Fund for South Africa. In 2018 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, where she is serving on the global project “Water security in a changing climate.” King won the Stockholm Water Prize for contributions to global river management.
Sandra Postel (2021)
Postel is recognized as an expert on freshwater ecosystems. She is the founding director of the Global Water Policy Project and served as a Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society from 2009 to 2015. She has written several books on global water issues. Postel, who has received four honorary doctor of science degrees, was vice president of research at the Worldwatch Institute from 1988 to 1994. She has taught courses on water policy at Mount Holyoke College and Tufts University. Postel was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize for her work to improve understanding of complex water-related issues.
Environmental Activists for Water Quality
There are many environmental activists who are champions for water, but two stand out.
Carson, an American biologist, conservationist, and nature writer, documented the devastating effects that pesticides have on the environment in her 1962 book “Silent Spring.” This haunting classic, widely recognized as the catalyst for the global environmental movement, documented the impact of the pesticide DDT.
While DDT has been replaced by other pesticides that still have a negative impact on pollinators, aquatic ecosystems, and water quality, Carson’s epic work created awareness of the scale of the problem and led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.
Brockovich is an American legal clerk, environmental activist, consumer advocate, and founder of Brockovich Research and Consulting. She rose to fame for her role in holding Pacific Gas & Electric Co. liable for contaminating groundwater in Hinkley, California, with chromium-6, blamed for widespread unexplained illnesses in the town.
Her investigation was the subject of the award-winning 2000 film “Erin Brockovich.” In 1996, a lawsuit was settled for $333 million, a record at the time. Since then, Brockovich has participated in several other water contamination lawsuits. She has been assisting residents of East Palestine, Ohio, after the nearby derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals.
Seven Seas Water Group supports the advancement of women in the water and wastewater industry. In fact, we have partnered with InHerSight, a company reviews platform that helps intentional organizations like ours hire, retain, and support women employees. Visit our profile to learn how we plan to foster a happier, gender-diverse workplace.
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