Supporting women’s voice and leadership in Asia Pacific region

4 min read
Group of children playing snakes and ladders
Image: WaterAid/Mani Karmacharya

This year, International Women’s Day is more important to WaterAid than ever. Just last month, we launched our new Global Strategy 2022 – 2032: Ending the WASH Crises Together – for everyone, everywhere. We know that gender inequality is made worse by weak water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) systems and services, so this new strategy represents a fresh and deeper commitment to strive for women and girls to be a central part of decision-making and leadership within WASH, at all levels, so their voices are heard and their needs are met. 

To celebrate this achievement on International Women’s Day, gender practitioners across WaterAid came together to share what this refreshed global commitment already looks like in practice. Below is a snapshot of what impact our programs are having to progress gender equality in Asia and the Pacific

HerRoles Campaign in Cambodia

 In Cambodia, the WaterAid team has led the HerRoles’ campaign over the past year, supported by Who Gives a Crap. The campaign promoted women’s WASH leadership in a sector dominated by men through a series of podcasts, live public dialogue events and story-telling. 11 women working in senior WASH roles undertook a leadership course to improve skills, knowledge and self-confidence and to foster role modelling to others. The project also mobilised men working in WASH in government and non-government sectors to publicly commit to take actions to champion gender equality through a series of high-profile public dialogue sessions.  

After participating in HerRoles campaign, it got me to realise that leadership has not position; everyone can be a leader of their own-self” a female representative from the Ministry of Rural Development, Cambodia 

Research into Gender Rights Organisations

In Timor-Leste, the Institute for Sustainable Futures (University of Sydney) supported WaterAid to do research to understand the drivers, barriers and opportunities of partnering with gender rights organisations. The research found that working together in partnership led to an increase in participation of women, and increased the scope of the local rights organisations work contributing to their strategic plans. It also improved local rights group’s opportunities to influence government actors. As one research respondent said:  

Women's groups speak out about WASH problems in the communities. I think the big change is that community aspiration reached the parliament. They also had a meeting with the women's parliament group.  

Partnership activities led to a positive change in the community’s perspective on engineering, which was now considered to be a job that both women and men could do. 

Menstrual rights video by The Pacific Menstrual Health Network

The Pacific Menstrual Health Network, supported by WaterAid through the Australian Aid NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), published a video message to highlight the importance of menstrual health rights to progressing gender equality. Filming from four countries in the region, these four local actors are at the forefront of menstrual health advocacy and influencing agendas. 

Measuring gender empowerment outcomes in Timor-Leste and Cambodia

A recently published academic journal article measuring our gender empowerment outcomes in Timor-Leste and Cambodia assessed the quality of empowerment outcomes through WASH. The review found that household gender equality changes in Timor-Leste were empowering because they shifted women’s and men’s roles, relationships and attitudes. It found that women’s leadership approaches in Cambodia achieved inclusive outcomes because they enhanced women’s critical consciousness. There was evidence of either individual/self-empowerment changes or changes to the enabling environment. The authors conclude by achieving empowerment outcomes in WASH, there can be a positive shift in gender norms, redistribution of power and benefits to women. These findings not only demonstrate positive outcomes through WA’s work, but will also support other WASH practitioners to better understand empowerment outcomes and how to integrate them in WASH.  

...after I joined a lot of activities with WaterAid such as women leadership and inclusive WASH training, I have gained much knowledge on WASH and I have confidence to push and speak with community people and senior government leaders in WASH. "

(Interview with woman training participant, Cambodia). 

These snippets of achievements raise the question: How will we strive for deeper change in the next ten years? Today’s International Womens day theme of ‘Changing Climates: Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’ is a call to action for us all. As practitioners working on gender equality at WaterAid, we are proud of our programming efforts to improve women’s lives. But we are capable of so much more. We are committed to working more to address gender-based violence; to tackle harmful gender norms and to empower people who are sexual and gender minorities. Watch this space – as we build and drive an even deeper ambition on gender equality for many more International Women’s Days and every day. 


Co-authored by WaterAid teams across the region:  

  • Chelsea Huggett, Technical Lead – Equality Inclusion and Rights, Australia 

  • Sovannnarong Tim – Program Assistant Equality and Inclusion, Cambodia 

  • Antoneta Soares, Equality and Inclusion Assistant, Timor-Leste 

  • Angelica Salale, Pacific Coordinator, Samoa