Poverty and social exclusion are closely linked. The poorest people are often 'left behind' and are rarely consulted or involved in decisions about water, sanitation, and hygiene policy and programs.

WaterAid and Social Inclusion

The world's poorest and most marginalized 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, sanitation and hygiene 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 stigmatized.

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 marginalized depends on the local context, and many people face multiple disadvantages. Women are often amongst the most powerless and invisible members of marginalized groups.

That's why we work with our partners to reduce inequalities and overcome discrimination in order to help spark chain reactions that deliver lasting change in people's lives.

Watch our video on why access to water is unequal.

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 marginalization wherever it occurs, and why the principle of 'equality and inclusion' is at the heart of everything we do.

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

But tackling discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion is not always straightforward. That’s why the first step is often to raise awareness and understanding – among our staff and local partners – by training people through workshops and dialogues. We support our partners to find out who is excluded from services and why. We talk directly to marginalized groups and giving them space to share their experiences and needs. 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.

We investigate the different barriers people and groups face when trying to access WASH. We analyze the findings to develop specific approaches to overcome these barriers. Our approaches include:

Working with others

  • Ensuring that the WASH sector incorporates principles of equality, non-discrimination and inclusion across all areas of policy and practice.
  • Generating evidence to highlight inequalities in WASH planning and service provision.
  • Linking with others who are promoting the rights of marginalized groups, to strengthen our expertise and promote the integration of inclusive and accessible WASH services in all sectors.

Developing capacity

  • Working with duty-bearers to strengthen their capacity to fulfil their obligations to provide equitable and sustainable WASH services.
  • Empowering socially excluded people to participate in development processes.

Delivering services

  • Conducting participatory safety and accessibility audits on WASH facilities to identify the changes and improvements needed.
  • Promoting simple and accessible WASH service designs, such as safe and secure toilets with ramps and wider entrances for wheelchair users.
  • Mobilizing communities so that different groups actively participate in planning and building services, including women and girls and others who are marginalized.
  • Providing information in local languages and in accessible formats.

"Water is the source of life."

With a tap in her home, Muluwork is hopeful for her children's future - she is now able to provide them with the clean water they need to stay healthy and grow strong.

Image: WaterAid/ Frehiwot Gebrewold

Muluwork Denekew and her husband are blind, and before WaterAid worked with them to install a tap in their home, she struggled every day to get clean water for them and her two young children. She used to rely on her neighbors to guide her or the use of her walking stick to travel the 30 minutes to collect water at a nearby river. The river’s water was unsafe to drink, and the strong currents made it difficult for her to keep her children safe while she was collecting water.

Recently, a local landowner installed a tap closer to her home, but he charges the community to use it. Muluwork has faced many kinds of discrimination in her life, and as a result, has been unable to finish her education and is currently unemployed. Although her husband is currently in school, neither of them have an income, and are not able to afford the water sold near their home.

WaterAid worked with Muluwork and her husband to identify the barriers that they currently face in accessing clean water. As a result, a water tap was installed directly in their home.

“Having this tap installed in my house made me very happy. I even called my father and told him how excited I am that tap water is installed for me. He congratulated me and told me to drink plenty of water. I told him that I can use the water as much as I want as it belongs to me.

Knowing that my children won’t suffer because of lack of water makes me hopeful and I am even planning to continue my education in the coming Ethiopian year. My children will live a healthy life. They will remain clean and happy as long as we have water.”