The minister of water affairs and forestry believes that lack of access to clean water and sanitation makes it difficult for people in rural areas to escape poverty.
Lindiwe Hendricks said this while speaking to delegates at the Annual Gender Practitioners' Conference in Pretoria last week.
She said access to clean water is important for the development of rural women and children, and gender equality in South Africa.
"Women must become the key drivers for the provision of such services," she said.
Hendricks said access to water was a basic human right and was crucial in ensuring "human dignity and pride" to women and children in rural areas.
"We tend to forget women and girl children bare the burden of having to provide water for their families.
"This, together with violence and crime in our society, threatened the safety of women, the education of young girls and contributed to inequality in communities."
She encouraged both men and women to work together to ensure that women and children were not discriminated against.
"We must all become activists in this sector for women to benefit from such services," she said.
The conference covered a range of topics including challenges to gender equality in organisations, leadership and society.