top of page

WIN partner feature: gender-rising water

Effective gender-responsive programming in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene or what is better known as the WASH sector can contribute to progress towards gender equality and important results [1].

In 2019, WIN has its sight set on the theme of gender and water integrity, exploring the dynamic interface that underpins the relationship between gender and integrity in the water and the overall WASH sector.

To mark International Women’s Day, we asked some of our partners to share the work they are doing in this regard. Here is what End Water Poverty, Simavi, Stockholm International Water Institute, and World Resources Institute have to say!


- Credit: Kiana Alavi, End Water Poverty, Zambia’s NGO WASH Forum.

Could you tell us how your work is narrowing the gender gap in the water sector and empowering women and other non-traditional leaders? Can you share a story or an experience?

By working closely with civil society organizations, promoting accountability for Goal 6 and raising awareness about the human rights to safe water, sanitation and hygiene, End Water Poverty (EWP) is supporting its members to narrow the gender gap.

EWP also ensures that all key stakeholders, such as governments, civil society organizations, development partners and UN agencies, focus on reaching the marginalized and most vulnerable, this includes women and girls.

To ensure that all groups are reached, the Secretariat dedicated the first week of its annual Water Action Month (WAM) campaign to reducing inequalities in WASH with a particular focus on women and girls.

EWP’s members across all regions also work closely with community and non-traditional leaders to ensure that voices from the local level reach decision-makers at the national, regional and global levels.

The Secretariat provides support to help facilitate this and allows CSOs a platform to share these voices. While the Secretariat does not do any WASH service provision, we work closely with members across various regions to advocate for the human rights of all, including women and girls.

To us, the future is better if women are not just involved in key conversations, but are empowered and provided with the platform to share their voices and help build a sustainable world for future generations.

What do you think are the key issues pertaining to gender, integrity and anti-corruption in the water sector?

We identify three key issues pertaining to gender and integrity in the water sector:

  1. The lack of accountability by decision makers who committed to reaching everyone and ensuring access to their human rights by 2030. This also leads to an increase in corruption.

  2. A lack of space for the input of marginalized groups (e.g. women) during the planning, implementation and review of strategies/projects. This hinders progress as the work that is done does not reflect the needs of these groups. For example, if women are not given the space to be involved in the planning processes, then the sanitation facilities planned and built (often by men) do not address their specific needs.

  3. A lack of data (or disaggregated data), which not only prevents us from seeing how much progress we have made but also provides spaces and opportunities for corruption to take place.

How would you like to work with WIN on this issue?

We would like to continue to work with WIN and link its work on transparency and integrity to EWP’s ongoing work on the human rights approach to WASH.

Whether this work is based on gender inequalities or working with a variety of marginalized groups, we want to work with WIN and other EWP members to ensure that marginalized groups are listened to and reached. We would also like to provide more capacity-building support at the national level to civil society organisations.

We would like to not just provide support to civil society organizations at the national level but to produce content with WIN that can promote the joint work of both organizations at a more global level and help engage new audiences, such as youth groups.


- Ritu with her daughter. Credit: Simavi.

Could you tell us how your work is narrowing the gender gap in the water sector and empowering women and other non-traditional leaders? Can you share a story or an experience?

Simavi uses women-centred rights-based approaches in its programmes. For our WASH programmes, this means that we look into what women need and what contributes to their empowerment. We consider empowerment as a process of change that enables women to make choices and transform these into desired actions and results.

When doing so, women, are taking control of their own lives, and their own bodies, improving their own positions, setting their own agendas, gaining skills, developing confidence in themselves, solving problems and developing self-sufficiency.

In other words, by empowerment, we are referring to increasing the economic, social, political, and physical strength of women.

To get a better insight into the “if-hows-and-whys” of women’s empowerment resulting from participation in the WASH committees or other WASH interventions, we conducted a study on 6 cases where we thought empowerment had taken place in Bangladesh.

What we learnt was that WASH programmes can create an enabling environment to facilitate empowerment. The following interventions were found effective in creating an enabling environment for women from this study:

  • Providing knowledge and information on health, sanitation and rights through several techniques: courtyard sessions, training workshops, posters, leaflets and banners, and exposure visits.

  • Providing a platform to discuss and share this knowledge with others and advocate for and claim rights.

  • Mentoring and coaching on how to claim their rights and participate in decision-making processes.

  • Creating an enabling environment to claim rights, assist in building linkages and participate in decision-making processes.

What do you think are the key issues pertaining to gender, integrity and anti-corruption in the water sector?

In many places of the world women still bear the (unpaid!) work of fetching water and care work within the household, even during pregnancy and when they have their periods.

They are also the first ones to suffer when there is too little or too much water (drought and flood) or a lack of access to sanitation. They are often not allowed to participate in decision-making processes within their households and their communities.

As was mentioned in the first question, when the enabling environment is created for them to empower themselves, they can become powerful drivers of change.

The rest of the question reminds us of a participant we met during a workshop in Bangladesh. She told us that after learning about her WASH rights and how she can demand them, she has been able to convince the local government to provide her community with Water Supply (Tube Well), three times!

The first two times two well-off men from the community convinced the contractor to dig the well in their yard promising they make it available to the community. But afterwards, they put a fence around it and put a lock on the well. Only the third time did they manage to get real access to the water.

Power dynamics and the tendency to prioritise personal interests above those of others are among the major perennial issues pertaining to integrity and anti-corruption.

How would you like to work with WIN on this issue?

The root causes of gender inequality within and outside the water sector cannot be addressed in isolation. Simavi believes working in partnership with like-minded organisations such as WIN would enable us to tackle different dimensions of the issue.

For instance in Bangladesh, Simavi and WIN support a common local partner – Development Organisation for the Rural Poor (DORP).

While Simavi support focuses on the use of a social accountability tool to monitor and demand adequate gender-responsive and inclusive WASH budget allocation and expenditure, applying WIN’s integrity tool aims to increase the transparency of the process, which is complementary to our work.


- Credit: Pilar Avello, SIWI

Could you tell us how your work is narrowing the gender gap in the water sector and empowering women and other non-traditional leaders? Can you share a story or an experience?

SIWI's main focus area is water governance – who gets what water, when and how, and who has the right to water and related services, and their benefits.

The gender gap plays out in terms of power relations and its consequent effect on people’s possibility to participate, influence and benefit from policies, activities and investments.

Women do not have equal access to institutions and decision-making processes that determine access, allocation, management and regulation of water resources and services. Particularly in water negotiations, women are greatly underrepresented or absent.

SIWI's work in this regard includes for example: the new water law in Comoros, in which specific recommendations were provided by SIWI to include gender aspects in the text to overcome gender-based disparities in access to water services and resources. The text is now being discussed at the Parliament.

Another example is our water integrity programme in the MENA region aimed at empowering stakeholders to act as change agents. The project worked closely with women professionals that allowed us, on one hand, to improve our understanding of the gender dynamics of corruption in the water sector in the region; and on the other to develop a Community of Practice of women professionals to increase women’s access to decision-making processes within overall water management often hindered and dictated by their social, economic position or geographic location.

What do you think are the key issues pertaining to gender, integrity and anti-corruption in the water sector?

One key issue when working with gender and anticorruption is to understand how corruption impacts men and women differently in the water sector. The gendered impacts of corruption are not limited to a specific sector or type of service.

Party politics based on clientelism and partiality effectively prevent women from entering higher positions since they lack access to these ‘boys’ clubs’. Protecting corrupt activities of men in party elites and/or old-school biases doubting women’s capabilities and trustworthiness can also hinder women from reaching higher political positions. Since citizens tend to give higher priority to investments benefitting their interests, the exclusion of women, as a result, can also have direct effects on the priority given to water and sanitation by governments.

In addition to the general impacts of corruption on their lives, women experience gender-specific types of corruption – of which sextortion is one of the most prevalent.

Despite cases of sextortion being documented in many sectors including education, health, humanitarian aid, migration and the judiciary system, it does not make headlines.

More research is needed, as recent research also points out that lower levels of corruption do not necessarily correlate with higher female representation in policymaking. Democratic political systems that enforce the rule of law, encourage a free press and hold institutions accountable tend to encourage women’s participation and representation. Hence enabling the environment for better water governance can have positive impacts on both anti-corruption and gender equity efforts.

Integrating a gender approach in anti-corruption work extends itself not only to improved understanding and inclusion of forms of corruption that affect women and men differently in legal frameworks and international conventions but also to create an enabling environment for women to fully engage as decision-makers.

How would you like to work with WIN on this issue?

WIN and SIWI are partner organizations that have collaborated on many projects in relation to the promotion and implementation of water integrity policies and tools, specifically in relation to water service delivery.

SIWI's experience in research about gender and corruption [2], or in developing training materials and implementing methodologies to asses water governance and integrity risks can be of use for WIN's network of partners, organisations, and governments working to improve water integrity worldwide.

We would like to continue our long-existing collaboration in this area looking for future opportunities to advance the theme in the water sector and ensure a gender-balanced world. #BalanceforBetter.


- Women are underrepresented in the water sector. Credit: Flickr/Asian Development Bank.

Could you tell us how your work is narrowing the gender gap in the water sector and empowering women and other non-traditional leaders? Can you share a story or an experience?

World Resources Institute (WRI) has an obligation, which we committed to within our strategic plan, to ensure that our projects mitigate negative social impacts and reduce gender and social disparities. WRI’s portfolio of work on water management includes many projects with deeply integrated gender considerations.

For example, we developed a set of guidelines for decision-makers using a tool within WRI Aqueduct – the Aqueduct Food Risk Analyzer. These guidelines consider gender and social equity in water and food security. With these guidelines, decision-makers can promote the involvement of women and other marginalized groups as important stakeholders in the usage and management of water.

Our team working on water-related conflict and risk assessments identified possible gender indicators that might help to better predict water-related conflicts (for building an Early Warning System).

They are also researching how gender may be linked to the causes, impacts, and/or solutions to water-related conflict, which will be integrated into an analysis that explores solutions for a variety of water and security pathways. The preliminary results of this research also led to the development of a blog that highlights that women have a role to play in effective water management, and when they are included, water tends to be more well-managed.

Another project we focus on, Strengthening the Right to Information for People and the Environment (STRIPE), works to improve communities’ health and environment through their right to access information and participate in decision-making.

Despite the passage of Freedom of Information laws around the world, people still don’t know if their water is safe to drink or if their air is too dirty to breathe.

Worldwide, 80 per cent of countries don’t publicly report the amount of pollution that companies discharge. Without this information, local communities cannot voice their concerns, participate in decision-making, or hold powerful interests accountable.

What do you think are the key issues pertaining to gender, integrity and anti-corruption in the water sector?

One of the main issues that stands out is the lack of data. Many anecdotes point to women’s potential as key players in water management, especially as it relates to improving water management. But in order to spark action, we need more evidence.

Impact evaluations that answer the “how” and “why” are especially lacking, which may help address how to include women in decision-making and project management.

Women are the primary users of water at the domestic and farm levels. They are also directly impacted by any changes in the quantity, quality, and pricing that may result from corruption at the utility level. Women from low-income households often have to stand in long lines to collect water or purchase it from unreliable, private sources when utilities fail to service their communities.

We also need to see more meaningful participation of women in the water sector. Current planners and providers should improve their understanding of issues facing women relating to water.

Additionally, women tend to make more socially aware and environmentally sound decisions—for instance, research shows that women, regardless of political affiliation, show greater concern for the environment than men and that female lawmakers increase the level of collaboration, conflict resolution, and capacity for self-sustaining collective action. But there are many barriers to women entering the workforce, especially in technical roles, ranging from hiring practices and hostile work environments to social beliefs around women’s training in traditionally male-dominated sectors.

How would you like to work with WIN on this issue?

In 2017, WIN, SIWI, WRI, Fundación Avina, and the Open Government Partnership formed a Community of Practice on Water and Open Government. This forum brings together water and open government experts from around the world to facilitate knowledge sharing and the development of innovative, cross-sector approaches that leverage transparency, inclusive participation, and accountable decision-making to improve water management and service delivery.

We would love to continue this work and find other opportunities to strengthen our collaboration as WRI continues to build on our gender and water work.


  • [1] UNICEF (2017) Gender-Responsive Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: Key elements for effective WASH programming.

  • [2] UNDP-SIWI Water Governance Facility (2017). Women and corruption in the water sector: Theories and experiences from Johannesburg and Bogotá. WGF Report No. 8. Stockholm: SIWI.


bottom of page