Friday, 10 September 2010

Addressing two critical MDGs together: gender in water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives

Georgina Rannard from End Water Poverty writes about the upcoming MDG Summit, and the links between sanitation and water and gender equality.

With the MDG Summit in New York fast approaching, there is no better time to highlight the progress that still needs to be made to reduce global poverty. NGOs and researches continue to emphasise the need to take an integrated approach to the goals – universal child education cannot be achieved without toilets and sanitation in schools, and enabling women to work instead of walking 6km to collect water puts them on a more equal footing with men in their communities.


In advance of the MDG summit, End Water Poverty co-authored a paper with Action for Global Health, Action Contre La Faim and WaterAid, 'Breaking Barriers: working together to achieve a healthy hunger-free world’. It calls for a well-financed and accountable Global Action Plan for all the MDGs, and for Heads of State to enhance integrated and holistic approaches at a national and global level to achieve key development outcomes, including sanitation and water.

Photo credit: Water Aid / Layton Thompson


Recent research conducted in communities in the Pacific has shown the positive effects of integrating gender issues with water and sanitation projects. Gender equality and access to sanitation and water for all are crucial in the elimination of poverty. Whilst both sectors are very diverse, one of the uniting themes is the adverse effect poor access to water and sanitation has upon the lives of women. Working with local NGO projects, the researchers spoke to women and men in communities in Vanuatu and Fiji, and based their conclusions on what women and men said about the water and sanitation initiatives. They talked about how women’s lives are improved practically by providing water and sanitation infrastructure, and at how deliberately including women in the planning and discussion of projects increases the respect they receive in local communities.

Photo Credit: Water Aid / Eva Lotta-Jannson

The paper, Addressing Two Critical MDGs together: gender in water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives, was written by academics from the Institute for Sustainable Futures in Sydney and the International Women’s Development Agency in Melbourne, and comes to two key conclusions:

1. Including wo
men in planning and discussion of water and sanitation projects has a positive impact upon gender equality in those communities:
• The burden of collecting water usually falls on women, so improving access to safe water means a reduction in
physical labour and satisfies women’s need to provide safe water and sanitation to their families.
• Women and men reported a reduction in violent household disputes over water management following the improvement of infrastructure.
• Men took on an increased role in hygiene in the home to support their wives – this also improved communication between men and women.
• Women were able to ta
ke on leadership roles and participate in community decisions for the first time. This improved their confidence and they felt more valued and respected by men in their community.
• Women’s efforts to promote sanitation and health were recognised by men, giving women a louder voice in their community.

2. As women tend to be are responsible for collecting water and for practical sanitation issues in a family, including women in the planning of water and sanitation infrastructure means the projects are usually better designed and planned. Projects then become more useful to the community.

Ultimately, the report highlights how designing water and sanitation projects to also address gender inequality has significant positive effects, fundamentally enhancing women’s dignity and empowering them to become leaders in their communities.

Let’s hope that leaders hear this message loud and clear at the MDG summit next week.

See here for information on End Water Poverty’s work at the MDG Summit in New York
In 2011, we will mark World Water Day with the global action, The World Walks For Water – thousands of people across the world will walk 6km to put pressure on governments to keep their promises to realise the rights to access to water and sanitation. See here for how to join the campaign and find out more information.

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