Celebrating inspirational women in water

This International Women's Day we have compiled a list of innovators, entrepreneurs, entertainers and activists who have made a substantial difference to the world of water.

Traditionally, the water sector has been predominantly male. The significant gender imbalance across the water industry is a legacy of women long being underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sectors.

A World Bank report, released in 2019, identified a lack of women in technical and managerial positions in water utilities and a recent Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership report found women make up only 29.1% of the workforce in the UK water industry, compared to 47.3% of women in the UK workforce across all sectors.

Yet, studies show substantial improvements in leadership, transparency and sustainability of water supplies when men and women are equally involved, compared to when women are marginally or not involved at all. An evaluation conducted by the World Bank, showed that simply involving women can increase the effectiveness of water projects by six to seven times over those that do not.

For example, in Balochistan, Pakistan, an all-women team proposed reusing a new water tank on unused land to provide water for non-functioning public pipelines. This plan was not only more cost-effective than the original plan developed by a group of men, but led to better water management and improvements in quality of life. Four years later this village built a new school for girls, investing in female empowerment and encouraging women's presence in politics.

Research also shows that women share water more equitably than men, especially in times of scarcity.

So what better day to celebrate the inspiring women across the world who have - and continue to -change the world of water for the better!

Here are just a few.

Georgie Badiel

Georgie Badiel launched the Georgie Badiel Foundation in 2015, which has made water accessible to over 100,000 people by building wells in local communities in Burkina Faso. The foundation also trains women to restore wells in their communities and educates students on menstrual hygiene management.

In 2016, Badiel co-wrote the educational children's book The Water Princess about her experience growing up without clean drinking water.

Harriet Strong

Harriet Williams Strong was the primary innovator of dry land irrigation and water conservation techniques in late 19th century America. In 1887, Strong patented her invention of a system of dams and reservoirs for water storage and flood control.

With no formal engineering or business school training, she became a renowned inventor, agricultural entrepreneur and civic leader.

Nisha Mandani

Nisha Mandani established Our AIM Foundation 13 years ago, with a core mission to provide clean water and sanitation facilities across the globe. Under her leadership, Our AIM Foundation has to date built over 2,000 water and sanitation facilities across Africa and South Asia.

Harriette Chick

Harriette Chick (1875 – 1977) was a British microbiologist. In 1904 she was awarded a DSc from London University for her work on green algae in polluted waters.

From 1905 onward Chick worked at the Lister Institute, researching disinfection of water contaminated by pollutants such as faeces. Among her first major research achievements was creating the Chick-Martin test for disinfectants.

Beth Koigi

Beth Koigi is founder and chief executive of Majik Water, which harvests drinking water from the air for off-grid communities in Kenya.

Her company ran a pilot at the Ark Children’s Home in Thika, Kenya, which is located in a water-scarce area. They provide children and staff with 50 litres per day of clean, safe drinking water from the atmosphere.

The aim is to have 100 litre+ community devices, and to make something that provides clean water at low cost.

Ruth Patrick

Ruth Myrtle Patrick was an American botanist and limnologist specialising in freshwater ecology.

She authored more than 200 scientific papers, developed ways to measure the health of freshwater ecosystems and established numerous research facilities.

Sandra Postel

Sandra Postel is a leading authority on international water issues. She was one of the first to warn of a global water crisis and to call for the conservation of water-based ecosystems.

Today, she inspires decision-makers to find new solutions to water scarcity, climate change and biodiversity loss.

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson is the author of Silent Spring - an environmental science book documenting the harm caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides.

Published on September 27, 1962 - in 2006, Silent Spring was named one of the 25 greatest science books of all time.

Hilla the Killa

Hila the Killa is an environmental educator and entertainer who creates music videos and songs about ecological issues, including water.

A pioneer of the Eco-Rap sub-genre, Hila’s music and videos combine hip-hop, stand-up and acrobatics to explore important environmental topics with wit and warmth.

Mina Guli

Mina Guli has completed some amazing physical feats, including running 40 marathons across seven deserts on seven continents in seven weeks. Why? To raise awareness of the global water crisis.

Voted one of Fortune’s 50 greatest leaders in the world, Mina Guli is the founder of Thirst; a grassroots education and innovation organisation with over 1.4 million student graduates, which is dedicated to getting the global water crisis to the top of the agenda and driving innovation to use less water every day.

Mercedes Gleitze

Mercedes Gleitze was a British professional swimmer. She was the first known person to swim the Straits of Gibraltar and the first British woman to swim the English Channel.

As well as open water events, Gleitze carried out 27 endurance swims across the UK and abroad, a feat which culminated in a British record of 47 hours of non-stop swimming.

Erin Brockovich

Erin Brockovich became a activist for clean water after she spoke out against Pacific Gas & Electric. The power company had contaminated the groundwater in Hinkley, California, with chromium‑6, a highly toxic chemical used in industrial processes.

She persuaded the law firm where she worked as a clerk to take the case, and in 1996 they won a $333 million settlement for 650 plaintiffs, at the time the largest toxic tort settlement in American history.

Erica Gies

Erica Gies is an award-winning independent journalist who writes about water issues for publications including Scientific American, The New York Times, The Guardian, National Geographic and The Economist.

Her book, Water Always Wins: Thriving in an age of drought and deluge, is about what she calls 'Slow Water' - innovations that are helping us adapt to the increasing floods and droughts brought by climate change.

Nicole Horseherder

Nicole Horseherder is executive director of Tó Nizhóní Ání, an advocacy group she helped form in 2000, which is dedicated to ending the “industrial use of precious water sources.”

Horseherder is a a Diné (Navajo) environmental activist and her work to protect the water sources of Black Mesa, Arizona as well as the Navajo Nation, is inspiring.

Dr Nina McClelland

In 1968 Dr Nina McClelland was named president and chief executive officer of the National Sanitation Foundation International in the US. During her time she led the International Clean Water programme and served on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Water Treatment Chemicals.

She also created a water quality Index to report water quality in lakes, rivers and streams.

After the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in the 1970s, McClelland also helped create the governmental standard for chemicals to treat drinking water.

Meera Subramanian

Meera Subramanian is an award-winning environmental journalist whose work focuses on the intersection of culture and environment.

Her acclaimed 2015 book, “A River Runs Again: India’s Natural World in Crisis, from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka,” explored the stories of Indians from multiple strata of society as they battle water shortages.