Leveraging gender equality to address WASH challenges

Joyce Patrick drops a coin into an e-tap water facility to fetch water at Itigi, Singida Region. Photo|  Courtesy of WaterAid.

By Maliki Muunguja

Water is an important resource for social welfare and development in general. Harmony does not reign, where there is no water.

That is why towards the celebration of World Water Day, March 22, “Leveraging Water for Peace,” is a slogan to encourage effective management of water resources which can be maximum leveraged to bring peace and stability among communities.

Progress has been made so far, however, only two-thirds (67 percent) of schools have access to basic drinking water and for girls, access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities is a critical factor affecting school attendance, especially during menstruation and is one of the key reasons for girls to drop out.

Yet, healthcare facilities with latrines that are not accessible to clients include 43 percent of dispensaries and 13 per cent of health centres even though eliminating infections is important because as much as most women deliver at health facilities in Tanzania (83 percent), most 93 percent of all reported maternal deaths also occur at the facilities.

The Tanzania government is aware of the water distress to its people, particularly women and girls despite the efforts, lime lighting a need for fresh approaches in dealing with the WASH sector.

The President of Tanzania, Hon Samia Suluhu Hassan, came out publicly and promised that she would work to relieve women of the burden of carrying water buckets on their heads (i.e. “Kumtua Mama Ndoo Kichwani” “Landing a bucket off a woman’s head”).

The vital and popular presidential campaign aims to raise investments in domestic water supply by making clean and safe water available for all at a reasonable distance so that women should no longer travel long distances in search of water.

With the gender mainstreaming integration in water resource management, women are engaged in WASH-related decision-making tables, providing their exposure to the setbacks.

The government, through the WSDP (III) programme, is determined to include women directly in decision-making levels involving access to water and sanitation services to reach 30 percent and ensure gender equity in the water sector is realized by 2025.

The implementation of these goals will involve conducting orientation seminars on the importance of equality in the distribution of water services, training on how to consider gender equality in water services and involving women in decisions related to water services.

Women’s empowerment in WASH is about expanding their ability to exercise choice and control in multiple areas related to WASH.

So, women’s access to resources, decision-making, and strengthening wider institutional or enabling policies and processes to be responsive to women and girls – all of which support them in meeting daily and long-term WASH needs.

For a non-governmental organization such as WaterAid, which holds a position as an important stakeholder in WASH services in the country, women form the centre of everything they do, gathering enough traction from its five- year Country Strategy Programme (2023 - 2028) documented women among the key dynamics of WASH sector challenges.

Amina Said, on her way to fetch water on a newly constructed water facility at Itigi, Singida Region. Photo Courtesy: WaterAid.

WaterAid Tanzania (WAT) is driven by the vision of ensuring that no female student fails to achieve her goals because there is no water or sanitation infrastructure in her school which makes her unable to study when she is on her menstrual cycle.

WAT, through various stakeholders, has supported and succeeded in building the infrastructures of water services in different regions in Tanzania since the beginning of its mission in 1983, helping women living in marginalized communities overcome the ordeal of walking long distances to find water.

Nevertheless, WAT has implemented projects that empower women to support their effective participation and take leadership in WASH decision-making and action planning and work with men and leaders to sensitize them on the benefits of women in decision-making roles while ensuring women are benefitting from and participating in WASH-related economic activities.

Notably, WaterAid’s 40 years of experience in the country, has seen it serving 1.8 million people to get clean and safe water, 800,000 households with decent toilets, and 26 million people with promoted hygienic practices.

The Country Director of WaterAid Tanzania, Anna Tenga Mzinga, was quoted as saying: “Gender-inclusive development now focuses on recognising WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) barriers and implementing interventions aimed at their elimination.

The approach aims to empower marginalized women to assert their rights and assume leadership roles in water resources management, recognising their central role as primary caretakers within families.

Simultaneously, it involves educating duty-bearers responsible for service provision and decision-making to understand and fulfill their obligations to ensure women’s inclusion.

WaterAid Tanzania anticipates that over time, systemic shifts in attitudes, behaviors, policies, and laws will occur, leading to the removal of these barriers.”

WASH services that do not support women and girls equally, safely and with reduced labor, will undermine global commitments to achieve universal access to water and sanitation for all – commitments that pay special attention to the needs of women and girls (SDG 6).

The active participation and involvement of women and girls in WASH projects are critical to the success and sustainability of these investments.

Through preparations, review and reveal strategies for water sector stakeholders can provide training for gender equity champions in the water sector, conduct various impact assessment studies and publish findings and continued advocacy for gender diversity in the water sector.

The times have changed, and the world has a new perspective on how to solve the challenge of access to reliable WASH services, looking at women as part of the solution, the need of a shift of focus to WASH gender-inclusive practices is now needed more than ever.

Working on gender equality and women’s empowerment in WASH is a process that takes time and intentional commitment, more focus on enhancing access to WASH and resources associated with WASH for women and girls is needed.