The issue explained

Poverty and social exclusion are closely linked - the poorest people are often socially excluded, have fewer opportunities for development and their voices go unheard in decisions made on their behalf.

This means that often water, hygiene and sanitation services don't serve the needs of the least powerful. People with disabilities and older people are excluded from water points and toilets if they can't easily access them, and women’s needs for safety and privacy are often ignored in the design of services.

Many people are also excluded through discrimination due to their gender, caste, age, disability, social status, or sexual orientation. Some groups, such as prisoners, refugees and sex workers are particularly stigmatised.

People can also be left out from services because of where they live. For example people living in remote areas, migrant workers, people who are homeless and pastoralists do not fit easily into mainstream service provision. The extent to which different groups of people are marginalised depends on the local context, and many people face multiple disadvantages. Women are often amongst the most powerless and invisible members of marginalised groups.

Our approach

Without addressing social exclusion, we can’t achieve our vision of everyone having access to clean water, a decent toilet and good hygiene. That’s why we seek to tackle exclusion and marginalisation wherever it occurs, and why the principle of 'equality and inclusion' is at the heart of everything we do.

We recognise that different people have different needs and no-one should be discriminated against or put at a disadvantage because of this. We also want to ensure that everyone is able to participate fully. This can involve improving the design of toilets and water points so they are usable by everyone, sharing design guidelines so other’s can make these improvements, or supporting marginalised people in demanding their rights and getting their voices heard in decisions about services.

But tackling discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion is not always straight-forward. That’s why the first step is often to raise awareness and understanding – among our staff and local partners – by training people through workshops. We support our partners to find out who is excluded from services and why, by talking to these marginalised groups, and giving them space to share their experiences. Once we are aware of and better able to appreciate the issues involved in people’s exclusion, we are much better placed to empower them to tackle it.

Poppy’s story

Before our partners installed accessible toilets in her town, Poppy couldn’t climb the steps to the slum’s toilets. Every time she needed the toilet, she had to go by the road or in a field. Getting water to drink or wash with was a real challenge too.

Read more about the changes our work has brought to people’s lives.
WaterAid/ GMB Akash/ Panos

When people have access to clean water, a decent toilet and can practice good hygiene they’re less likely to get ill.

Gender equality

We’re working to achieve gender equality, ensuring women and girls are involved.

Building services that last

We’re focused on ensuring that water and sanitation services continue to work over time.