Leaving nobody behind

3 min read
Kong and Mech
Image: WaterAid/Samrang Pring

In every program we’re part of, in every country we work, there’s an opportunity to think about how we are bringing about better outcomes for the most marginalised people in society. This includes people with a disability, people of diverse sexualities, older people and people living in remote areas.

Unfortunately many women and girls also experience inequality and discrimination simply on the basis of their gender. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by inadequate access to water, toilets and hygiene by having to collect water from distant water sources, give birth in unhygienic environments, or manage their menstrual periods without proper support. Our work acknowledges and addresses the inequalities that women and other marginalised groups face, but also goes one step further by ensuring that these people are actively involved in the solutions. In our work of building better water, sanitation and hygiene systems, we identity opportunities to empower marginalised people and ensure they are involved at every stage of the process.

For example, in Timor-Leste we’ve been working closely with local women’s groups and supporting them to advocate for and get a seat at the table in decision making processes around water, sanitation and hygiene, which are typically dominated by men. The increase in women’s leadership means that women’s specific needs and interests are better understood, resulting in toilet designs being more female friendly and more women’s voices being heard at a local level where decisions are being implemented. Our goal here is not just to improve women’s leadership but to challenge the negative attitudes and tackle stereotypes that prevent women from being involved in the first place. That is why it is so important to work with women’s groups rather than individual women.

Our focus going forward is on shifting our practice from focusing on inclusion to focusing on transformative change. That is, how do we not only ensure that people who experience marginalisation are included in decisions, but how can we change the structures, norms and power which are the root causes of exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination? We see water, sanitation and hygiene efforts as a powerful platform to adopt a transformative change approach.

This is evident in our ‘Keeping Girls in School’ project (funded by the Australian Aid program’s Gender Action Platform), where we’re working with teachers to bring boys into the conversations about menstrual periods as we recognise men and boys need to be involved if we are to eliminate the social taboos around periods. Likewise, we’ve applied a transformative lens to our new Water for Women-funded program, particularly in Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste where we’re encouraging our stakeholders to consider the impacts on gender equality and women’s empowerment across every single decision they make.

Case study

This article first appeared in WaterAid Australia's Annual Report 2018-19