Written by Navjot Sawhney & Safaa Aouil Ghamzi on Digilah (Tech Thought Leadership)
Ever since humans started wearing clothes, women have been delegated to wash them. This unpaid labour trap has disproportionately affected women from the beginning of time. During the industrial revolution, a ground breaking invention changed the way humans washed their clothes forever. It was the electric washing machine. Whilst millions of people benefited from the time saved, a gap of inequality was forming in the Global South, where many people still handwash their clothes to this day. Lack of access to electricity, water, and cultural norms mean that 70% of the world’s population does not have access to an electric washing machine and is often not a sustainable option.
Furthermore, 4.2 billion people do not have adequate sanitation and hygiene access globally. Unsafe and inadequate Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene practices are the main reason for disease in low-income countries. The top diseases spread by poor hygiene include body lice, diarrhoea, pinworm, and bacterial skin infections.
When combining all these factors, handwashing can get incredibly burdensome. Women and children face many health risks associated with handwashing clothes, notably skin irritation and contracting infections and water-borne diseases from direct contact with contaminated water sources. They often lead to health implications further down the line.
The Washing Machine Project was created to combat the issues associated with handwashing clothes. Fast forward three years, we have carried out research in 16 countries and have piloted our novel manual washing machine in Iraq and Lebanon.
Our ethnographic research with 3,000 families, including 900 in Uganda 800 in Jamaica, Nepal and the Philippines, prove that handwashing clothes are disproportionately placed on women and children as young as 6. For children, this burden is detrimental to their education and childhoods. It is a laborious task that inflicts chronic pain for those who spend up to 20 hours per week handwashing clothes. Handwashing clothes is time spent away from family, education, paid work and risking their health. Something had to be done.
We created Divya, an efficient manual washing machine that saves 50% of water and 70% of the time, resulting in 750 hours saved annually per household.
It’s a front-loaded washing machine with a 5kg drum capacity that uses no electricity. Divya spins at 500 revolutions per minute and spin-dries clothes with 75% of the water coming out in the dry cycle. The device is made predominantly from off-the-shelf components that can easily be replaced or fixed in poor communities. With Divya, women can now spend their free time pursuing paid work and benefit from an education instead of spending hours handwashing clothes.
For people who are burdened by handwashing clothes, a Divya washing machine is simply a miracle. Here are some testimonials below:
“I have three girls who stay two or three hours a day washing by hand. We suffer from pain in our hands, back and legs. It’s a fantastic invention.” – Kawsek, a refugee in Lebanon.
“After this washing machine came to us, things got easier for us. We don’t get exhausted anymore. We are very grateful. Thank you.” – Lamiya, a refugee in Iraq.
We have now received orders and interest from 25 countries for our Divya washing machines. Our vision is to create a world-leading organisation that brings together Innovation, Research and Development to solve the world’s most pressing humanitarian and development challenges. Whether it’s washing machines, air conditioning or refrigeration, we want to do it all.
Donate here to create more Smart Technologies to change lives : https://www.gofundme.com/f/thewashingmachineproject
3 replies on “Manual washing machines are back and stronger than ever”
Really interesting to learn more about the correlations between handfasting and stereotypical gender roles. It is often something accepted as a cultural normal rather than questioned. Divya sounds like a revolutionary idea which will hopefully help a lot of women and children. Great article, keep it up!
Thank you, Ha-lim!
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