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Case studies (check website

Case Study on Gender and Sanitation, and Gender and Domestic Water Supply in Zimbabwe

Togo: Integrating Gender into the Promotion of Hygiene in Schools SSHE
India: From Alienation to an Empowered Community - Applying a Gender Mainstreaming Approach to a Sanitation Project, Tamil Nadu

3.5. Gender, Domestic Water Supply and Hygiene


Women are the main users and managers of domestic water supply, and traditionally they maintain domestic water sources, fetch water, and use it in and around the house. However, men, and especially the male leaders, often control these sources and make the major decisions related to location and type of facilities available. The differentiated gender roles are often reinforced by official efforts to improve domestic water supply, despite widespread evidence that water systems function better when both women and men are actively involved in planning, construction, operation and maintenance of water facilities and sources. Only when women are directly involved in a meaningful way will their needs be addressed and solutions found that are appropriate and sustainable. Involving women in domestic water management also has the potential of addressing gender imbalances in society.

Conventional approaches in the water supply sector are generally not gender-sensitive and have undervalued women’s needs and contributions to the sector. Women’s knowledge about water sources and their multiple uses of water are not given significant recognition. When women have more control over their access to water, they will have more time for child care and economic activities that will improve their families’ quality of life.
Good hygiene is essential for a sustainable and safe water supply; half of the contamination of water happens after fetching it. Water might be stored in dirty pots or water sources can become polluted, because people are watering livestock from the same source. However, while hygiene promotion and education typically focus on women and girls, men are often the ones who take major decisions in the household. As men and boys often serve as role models, they should be involved in hygiene promotion and education programmes. To be more gender sensitive, such programmes need to target men and boys through culturally appropriate channels.

The Role of Women in the Drinking Water Supply Sector

The drinking water supply sector has a long history of examining the roles of women, because of the visibility of women carrying water over long distances in many countries. The effort to expand access to water supply has also led the way in evolving a gender-based approach that takes account of changing social structures, and their effects on the way that women and men use and manage water resources. Considerable successes have been achieved in incorporating a gender analysis into local drinking water supply programmes. A large number of participatory toolkits have been developed for this purpose.

However, a lot still remains to be done:

  • Gender has not been mainstreamed in the engineering and technical design of water supply systems nor in the management of the sector at all levels;

  • Staff of line departments are seldom sensitised towards the needs of women and prefer to deal with their male counterparts in the villages and slums;

  • A disproportionate part of investments goes to large, multi-village schemes that offer less opportunity for participation, in particular by women (GWA 2003).

  • Outcomes of gender analysis have seldom been incorporated into project designs and operation and maintenance practices;

  • Women at the local level often face fierce competition from the men who prefer to use limited supplies of water first for agriculture and for their animals; and

  • Hygiene is still usually considered to be women’s domain though men have an important role to play as decision-makers and role models.

Moreover, the important positive economic linkages resulting from improved access to water for women are not often recognised, when considering the development and provision of drinking water infrastructure. Improving access to drinking water and sanitation can make an enormous difference to the economic well being of households, as women gain time and energy to engage in economic and personal activities.

Economic Benefits Of Domestic Water Supply

From a research project on gender and economic benefits of domestic water supply carried out by the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India, IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre and the Foundation of Public Interest (FPI), it was demonstrated that improved water supply combined with micro-enterprise development and capacity building programmes for women has much potential to alleviate poverty in semi-arid areas. The calculations were made in terms of the costs of reduced water collection time and the potential benefits of this reduced time.

An area where a lot still needs to be done is inclusion of men and boys into hygiene promotion and hygiene education programmes. Hygiene is essential to ensure the safety and sustainability of domestic water supply, as it relates directly to how domestic water supply facilities are used and to the priority given to operation and maintenance thereof. To reach men and boys culturally appropriate communication material, channels, and strategies need to be identified and developed.

Policy Overview

Many policies have addressed the roles of women, or the division of responsibilities between women and men, but they do not have a comprehensive and consistent gender focus. Gender concerns have penetrated into many national water sector policies and there has been a recognisable shift from policies concerned with women in development to those encompassing gender mainstreaming. Nonetheless, gender still does not penetrate deeply into policies and legislation (GWA, 2003).

From a social equity perspective, it can be seen that inequality remains a serious problem among social groups, and between women and men within these groups. Yet very few policies recognise both social and gender inequalities in combination, and do not address them in a comprehensive manner. Many policies mention participatory approaches for small-scale water supply systems managed by user committees. Where they give attention to women or gender, the emphasis is on participation of women or equality between men and women in decision making. Very few mention the inclusion of marginalized social groups or the roles of men, which are thought to be implicitly included.
Water sector reforms in many countries have created many new institutions, some of which may include a gender unit, but these have not really affected the way the institutions work. In Uganda, a Water Sector Gender Strategy was introduced in 2003 that stipulates targets for involving women at all levels of water management. While this is a laudable initiative, it is difficult to measure the effects of the strategy on the ground. There is need for more attention to be paid to the roles and positions of men and why they may or may not be supportive of improving gender equality in the sector.
Other positive examples include affirmative action policies incorporated into regulations of water ministries in Lesotho, Uganda and South Africa, specifying percentages of staff who should be women. The 1996 South African Constitution explicitly states that every citizen has the right to basic amounts of drinking water and sanitation, and recognises equality of men and women. In the Dominican Republic, there is a regulation of the National Water Authority, requiring that at least 40 per cent of the water committee must be women.
Key Actors in the Sector

In many countries the state has moved away from water provision and is focusing on poverty reduction policies and creating an enabling environment for other actors to provide water and sanitation. Private-sector enterprises, particularly small-scale local service providers, have an important role to play. However, the framework in which they operate should be clearly spelt out. This is particularly so when the private sector takes over water supply systems in urban or peri-urban areas, and the interests of low-income communities require special attention.

Within households and communities, men, women and children have different tasks related to water and hygiene. Unequal power relations shape the daily practices. Within households different categories of women have different responsibilities. Because of ignorance about hygiene in some cultures, daughters-in-law, who do most of the cooking, are forbidden to wash their hands or use the toilet, because it is seen as a luxury they do not deserve.
Involvement of local communities in the planning, implementation, operation and maintenance (O&M) of drinking water supply is essential for the quality and sustainability of the systems. However, within communities men tend to dominate the decision-making, even though women are the main users. NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs) have key roles to play in facilitating the planning, implementation and O&M in a gender-sensitive and equitable manner.
Gender Mainstreaming in the Sector

Gender is a critical factor in ensuring sustainability and hence overall success of water projects. Gender mainstreaming is a way to ensure that there is adequate representation of men and women in operation, maintenance and management of programmes and projects.

Some of the challenges to gender mainstreaming in the sector are the following:

  • There is need to have an integrated and holistic approach to rural and urban development reform, so as to empower women and enable them to influence the design and location of the services to meet their domestic and economic requirements.

  • There is also a need to involve experienced CBOs and NGOs with communities and local governments in providing water supply and supporting micro-enterprise development in the re-formulation of current policies.

  • The promotion of private-sector development of natural resources should take into account women’s knowledge and subsistence activities for economic development.

  • There is need to build capacity of sector professionals to mainstream gender, including among NGOs, CBOs, and managers.

  • To enable sound water management, water and sanitation services should be provided at fair and reasonable rates. Payment systems should be flexible to reflect that women and men in different economic groups have different income sources and mobility.

Gender and Water Alliance (GWA), 2003. Gender Perspectives on Policies in the Water Sector. The Gender and Water Development Report 2003. GWA.
Gender and Water Alliance (GWA), 2003. The Gender and Water Development, Gender Perspectives on Policies. Delft, Netherlands: Gender and Water Alliance. Available at:
Gender and Water Alliance, 2003. Tapping into sustainability: Issues and trends in gender mainstreaming in water and sanitation. A background document for the Gender and Water Session, 3rd World Water Forum, Kyoto, Japan. Available at: http:/
International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC), 1994. Occasional Paper series. Working with women and men on water and sanitation: An African Field Guide.

Available from:

Maharaj, Niala, 2003. The Global Approach to water management: Lessons learnt around the globe. Findings of an electronic conference series convened by the Gender and Water Alliance, Delft, Netherlands. Examines emerging lessons from 82 case studies on gender mainstreaming in the water sector. Available at:
WEDC, 2004. The Gender Millennium Development Goal: What Water, Sanitation and Hygiene can do. Briefing Note 4, London Water Engineering & Development Centre (WEDC)

Available at:

Wijk-Sijbesma, C. van, 1998. Gender in water resources management: Roles and realities revisited, Technical series 33-E, The Hague: International Reference Centre for Water and Sanitation.

Additional Resources
ADB, Checklist for water and sanitation

This publication starts by discussing why gender is important in water supply and sanitation projects and goes on to list key questions and action points in the project cycle, and to explain gender analysis from project design to a policy dialogue.

Available at:
Ahmed, S. 2002. “Mainstreaming gender equity in water management: institutions, policy and practice in Gujarat, India,” in Natural Resources Management and Gender: A Global Source Book. Amsterdam: KIT (the Royal Tropical Institute) and Oxford: Oxfam.

Alter, R. C. 2001. Water for People: Stories about People and Development in the Himalayas, New Delhi: Orient Longman.

This is the story of a Himalayan community and their struggle for a better quality of life both for themselves and the environment which shelters them. Women in these mountain villages play a critical role in developing and maintaining community (piped) water supply schemes as well as addressing local health and education needs.
Colleen Lowe, Morna, 2000. Mainstreaming gender in water and sanitation: Literature review for the South African Department of Water and Sanitation, Gender Links.

This paper is a review of international, regional and national literature on mainstreaming gender in the water and sanitation, forms part of the study on gender mainstreaming. Commissioned by the South African Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF).

The review is divided thematically as follows:

Key gender concepts

Key lessons of gender mainstreaming in water and sanitation

Best practices of gender mainstreaming in water and sanitation

Available at:
Danida, 1999. Gender and Water Supply and Sanitation: Guiding Questions Working Paper.

This document provides ‘guiding questions’ for the water supply and sanitation sector, including, health and hygiene promotion, and water resource assessment and promotion. It contains questions, actions and examples to include gender dimensions into various topics, including key areas in programme planning and implementation and in monitoring and evaluation.

Available at: UM Information Office, Ministry of Foreign affairs, Asiatisk Plads 2, 1448 Copenhagen. E-mail:
DFID, 2002. Gender issues in the management of water projects. Available at: gender issues.pdf
DFID, WSP, India Case, Community Management field notes: Sustainable community management of a multi-village water supply in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, India: Small Private Initiatives (SPI) in the water and sanitation in India.

This is a series of field notes on small private initiatives in the water and sanitation sector in India. It is designed to document a few successful urban and rural experiences focusing on the poor.

DFID, 1998. Guidance manual for water supply and sanitation programmes.

A manual prepared by Water and Environmental Health at London and Loughborough and published by the Water Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC), Loughborough University, UK.

Available at: Water Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC), Loughborough University, UK
Diana, Makule, 1997. Water and Sanitation for all: Partnerships and Innovations: Gender Perspective. Ministry of Water, Tanzania.

The paper was presented in the 23rd WEDC Conference on gender issues in water and sanitation, the case of Tanzania. It provides an overview on the situation of water and sanitation to enable the reader to comprehend the reality of what Tanzanian women are going through. The paper does not go into detail on the reason that sum up to the actual situation of water and sanitation in Tanzania.

Available at: Water Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC), Loughborough University, UK
FINNIDA, 1993. Looking at gender, water supply and sanitation. Finnish International Development Agency (FINNIDA), Helsinki
FINNIDA, 1994. Looking at gender, water supply and sanitation. Finnish International Development Agency (FINNIDA), Helsinki
IRC, International Water and Sanitation Centre, Abstracts on women, water and sanitation.

Annual annotated listing of new publications and resources (journal, articles, books, research publications and reports) that goes beyond sanitation issues and also gender and water. From 1998 it has become a web-based resource.

Available at: http://www.//
InterAgency Taskforce on Gender and Water, The UN Commission on Sustainable Development, 12th Session. A gender perspective on water resources and sanitation: Background Paper 12, 1996.

Paper covers issues such as equitable access to resources, participation, resources mobilization, pricing and privatization, water resources and conflict. It also includes recommendations for actions by governments, communities and civil society as well as donors and international organizations.

Available at :
Khosla, Prabha, Christine Van Wijk, Joep Verhagen, and Viru Jmes, 2004. Gender and Water, Technical Overview Paper, IRC. Available at:
Rathgeber, Eva M, International Development Research Center, Women, men, and water resource management in Africa.

This paper examines some of the concerns that have motivated African governments and donors to become involved with water projects. Although there is a general recognition of the needs of “communities” for reliable water systems, it is argued that the different attitudes, perspectives, and the needs of women and men with respect to water access and use have been given little focussed attention by environmental planners and water resource mangers in Africa. More specifically, it is suggested that throughout the 1970s and 1980s, although concerted efforts were being made to increasing water accessibility, little effort was made to integrate the economic roles of women into water resource planning.

Available at:
Regmi, S.C and B Fawcett, 1999. “Integrating gender needs into drinking water projects in Nepal,” in C. Sweetman (ed.) Women, Land and agriculture, Oxford: Oxfam.
Regmi, S.C and B. Fawcett, 2001. “Men’s roles, gender relations, and sustainability in water supplies: Some lessons from Nepal”, in C. Sweetman (ed.) Men’s involvement in gender and development policy and practice: Beyond Rhetoric. Oxford: Oxfam working papers
Regmi, S.C. and B. Fawcett, 2001. Gender implications of the move from supply-driven to demand-driven approaches in the drinking water sector: A developing country perspective.

The paper was presented at the first South Asia Forum on Water, Kathmandu, November, 2001. The article argues that lack of gender in the international water policies can marginalise poor rural women in the developing countries from the benefits of improved water services. Water supply improvements implemented under such policies neither empower women, a prerequisite for development, nor do they achieve sustainable practical benefits for women and men.

Singh, N, G. Jacks and P. Bhattacharya, 2005. “Women and community water supply programmes: An analysis from a socio-cultural perspective,” Natural Resources Forum, Vol. 29, pp. 213-23.
Singh, N, P. Bhattarcharya, G. Jacks and J. E. Gustafsson, 2004. “Women and modern domestic water supply systems: Need for a holistic perspective,” Water Resources Management, Vol. 18, pp. 237-248.

UNICEF, 1998. A Manual on Mainstreaming Gender in Water, Environment and Sanitation (WES) Programming. Water, Environment and Sanitation Technical Guidelines Series, No 4.

The manual represents gender policies & strategy frameworks based on UNICEF principles, details current issues in WES Programmes illustrates how gender issues relate to the sector using case studies, best practices and lessons learnt.

Available at:

UN DESA, DAW, 2005. Women 2000 and beyond: Women and Water. Gender perspective, Natural resources, Rights, Access, Sanitation, Health, Economics. Available at:
WEDC, 2004. The Environmental Sustainability Millennium Development Goal, What Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Can Do: Briefing Note 6, Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC), Loughborough University, U.K. Available at:
WEDC, 2004. The HIV/AIDS Millennium Development Goal, What water, sanitation and hygiene can do: Briefing note 5, Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC), Loughborough University, U.K. Available at:
WEDC, 2004. The Child Health Millennium Development Goal, What water, sanitation and hygiene can do: Briefing note 3, Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC), Loughborough University, U.K. Available at:
World Bank/Water and Sanitation Program Toolkit for Gender in WatSan Projects

This webpage provides some checklists of important gender issues to consider when developing projects and sectoral programs. It also has indicators and checklists to help address key gender issues throughout a project cycle. Additional resources including briefing notes on Gender and Development, Toolkits, GenderStats, and training material are provided as weblinks and downloadable (pdf) files.

Available at:
White paper on Water Policy, South Africa, 1997.

Paper represents the policy of the South African Government. It focuses on important part of the review and reform of the water law in South Africa.

Available at: http:/

World Bank, 1999. Rural Water Supply and Sanitation in India. New Delhi: Allied Publishers.

French language resources
pS-Eau, 2003. L’intégration du genre dans la gestion de quatre infrastructures Hydrauliques du Programme d’Appui Institutionnel au secteur Eau (PAI-Eau) dans la région de Sikasso, au Mali. Helvetas Mali et le pS-Eau – Session « Gender in court », 3ème Forum mondial de l’eau, Kyoto, mars 2003
pS-Eau, 2003. Projet hydraulique villageoise au Togo. Helvetas Mali et le pS-Eau – Session « Gender in court », 3ème Forum mondial de l’eau, Kyoto, Mars 2003.
pS-Eau, 2003. Projet Eau et Assainissement en milieu Rural (PADEAR) au Bénin. Helvetas Mali et le pS-Eau – Session « Gender in court », 3ème Forum mondial de l’eau, Kyoto, Mars 2003,

Le Programme d'Appui au Développement du Secteur de l'Eau et de l'Assainissement en Milieu Rural PADEAR est un programme basé sur un modèle participatif. Dans le cadre de ce programme, l'implication des femmes à toutes les étapes de décision (depuis l'identification des besoins, la conception du projet jusqu'à la réalisation et à l'organisation de la gestion du projet) est une des stratégies privilégiées
Sidibe, M. and S. Dembele, 1990. Collaboration au niveau du pays dans le secteur de l'eau et de l'assainissement : une étude de cas République du Mali-Bamako DNHE, CREPA, Ouagadougou.

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