Gender and women’s leadership in water supply and sanitation

Gender was a cross-cutting theme for the eleven Joint Programmes, pointing to the practical importance of reliable and safe drinking water and sanitation facilities for the well-being of women and girls in their everyday life. Strategically, the programmes supported women's leadership and influence in decision- making.

DEG-KM cooperated with UN-Women to strengthen the knowledge on how to integrate gender issues better in water and sanitation governance. This work included global studies, mapping exercises and specific case studies to analyse and showcase gender practices and strategies of the Joint Programmes.

Strengthening women's influence

Facilitation of spaces for women to discuss common needs has been essential for the successful practices of the programmes. However, solely promoting increased representation of women without linking it to the fostering of cohesion is not inherently empowering. The involvement needs to be active, have tangible outcomes and vouch for women’s joint interests.

In Panama and Ecuador, capacity building to strengthen women’s leadership has been carried out. This has engendered several woman-led water committees, election of the first women cacicas, and a strong increase in women’s active participation in water-related decision-making at the local and regional level.

To promote women’s active participation in decision-making at the local level the Mexican JP encouraged women to find their joint voice by facilitating discussions in gender disaggregated groups. In Mexico the formulation of three municipal agendas on water and gender equity was also promoted through the programme.

This programme is a partnership with Cooperacion Española, MDG-F

Lesssons learnt

  • To overcome historical male bias and engineering dominance in the water sector active commitment from top management and gender expertise in programme design and implementation is vital.
  • To increase the easily measurable number of women in water related decision- making, while overlooking the quality of their participation, risks hiding underlying power inequalities.
  • Gender strategies need to involve men and to take into consideration how they may react to changes in gender roles – or progress towards gender equity may be hampered and unintended conflicts generated.

A video about the female-led water committee in the two Ecuadorian communities Las Lolas.



Durnig the 2012 Stockholm World Water Week the experiences and lessons learnt from gender mainstreaming work of the 11 Joint Programmes was presented during the seminar Global Practice in Promoting Gender Equality in the Water Sector, chaired by Ms Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Secretary of UN Women.