Avijit Bhakta

International Women’s Day 2018

Water Integrity Requires Increased Inclusion and Empowerment of Women

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2018, the Water Integrity Network (WIN) issues this statement on Gender and Water Integrity.

WIN’s commitment to gender issues and in particular women’s rights relates directly to its mission and the definition of water integrity. We aim for decision-making that is fair and inclusive, honest and transparent, accountable and free of corruption, with a pro-poor and pro-equity focus. Clearly, this calls for attention and action on the disadvantaged position of women around the globe. This statement intends to draw attention to the importance of the issue, by clarifying WIN’s view and reconfirming its commitment.

WIN welcomes recent reports on the link between water and gender. Key reports include the World Bank’s “The Rising Tide: A New Look at Water and Gender”, UNDP-SIWI Water Governance Facility’s report “Women and corruption in the water sector”, the Report of the UN-Women Expert Group Meeting on Gender Equality & Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, as well as the relevant sections in UN-Women’s 2018 Flagship publication ‘Turning promises into Action’. However, WIN calls for a stronger and more explicit discussion on integrity and corruption in such reports.


Strong involvement of women in decision-making about water is key for water integrity

Gender, and in particular the position of women and girls, is a key aspect of water integrity. Water integrity refers to decision-making that is fair and inclusive, honest and transparent, accountable and free of corruption. Fair decisions require that women’s interests are fully taken into account. Considering that mainly women are responsible for fetching water and caring for household sanitation in large parts of the world, it is essential that women’s interests are included and represented in decision-making about water.  Given WIN’s pro-poor and pro-equity oriented mission, and the usually disadvantaged position of women, WIN considers gender a priority topic.

A first important issue to address is meaningful participation of women in decision-making processes. Decision-making should be inclusive, because this is the only way to ensure that women’s interests, and experiences, are duly taking into account. WIN will support the female leadership, which is indispensable to make this reality. It is an important aspect, which WIN also discusses with its partners. It requires not only women’s but also men’s leadership, and often a distinctive change in men’s attitudes and behaviour. Empowering women to take a stronger lead and to be included in decision-making requires acknowledgement of its importance by all water sector stakeholders and WIN will promote this.

Women and girls have special interests in relation to water integrity[1]. In particular, ensuring universal, reliable access close to home is a key interest for all those women and girls who lose hours per day in fetching water, which essentially prevents them from engaging in other important activities such as education and labour.[2]  Women also require privacy and safe access to adequate sanitary facilities, in particular to ensure proper menstrual hygiene with dignity.

Many women and girls face risks of sexual harassment and assault when locations for water and sanitation are remote and/or unsafe and as a result of an especially nasty form of corruption – extortion of sex for water services.

WIN is increasingly taking up the challenge of addressing gender issues in its work. While we have a gender and diversity policy in place, we are strengthening our efforts. Two WIN staff now have gender as a specific point of attention in their tasks. Gender and gender-disaggregated data are becoming standard practice in our analyses and data collection. As most of WIN’s programmes are implemented with partners, we are intensifying our discussions with partners on how to best address gender in each existing and developing programme. This will in particular focus on empowering women, promoting women’s participation and leadership, and advocating for women’s interests in water governance.

As the Water Integrity Global Outlook (2016) puts it:

“There is no time to lose. Powerful forces and vested interests must no longer be allowed to use corruption to hamper water justice. And corruption must no longer be a barrier to development, to achieving the water and sanitation rights of billions of people”[3].

This holds in particular for women and girls.


For more information: Frank van der Valk, WIN Executive, Elske Koelman and Umrbek Allakulov, WIN Gender Focal Points.


[1] See e.g. WIN (2016): Water Integrity Global Outlook (WIGO), pp. 82-83.

[2] See e.g. UN-Women (2018): Turning Promises into Action.

[3] WIGO p. 29.

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