Women’s input key to achieving SDG6

Posted 24 October 2016

African women washing clothes - gender and SDG6 (water and sanitation)Australia has dedicated $100 million to gendered water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues abroad, but more must be done to address the absence of women’s input if true change is to be affected, says a leading Australian WASH researcher.

As part of Australia's commitment to the United Nations High-Level Panel on Water, Malcolm Turnbull announced the funding would be committed to a new Water for Women initiative.

UTS Institute of Sustainable Futures’ Associate Professor Juliet Willetts, who is co-authoring with colleagues Melita Grant and Chelsea Huggett a framing paper to inform the Federal Government on gender and SDG6 (water and sanitation), said a key focus must be to herald women’s input on water developments.

“It’s a high-level panel with only two years of operation and the question has been: what’s it going to do that’s different to the many other global initiatives already at play? A key area the Panel could influence is gender equality in the sector,” Willetts said.

“There are lots of promises that have been made globally about increasing women’s voice, but the reality is that there is still so much more to be done.

“And there are lots of decisions about water policy and infrastructure where women’s voices are very much absent.”

Achieving SDG6 will be a difficult without bolstering input from women, Willetts said.

“This absence of women’s opinion reflects a big hurdle for securing effective action on SDG6, as many women in developing countries are responsible for water and sanitation,” Willetts said.

“A recent study across 45 countries showed that 72% of work in relation to household water and sanitation is done by women. You’ve got a situation where women’s lives are very much affected by changes or lack of access to services.”

Daily impacts include labour hours spent collecting water, access to menstrual hygiene, physical and sexual violence when accessing facilities alone, and flow-on disruption these effects have on access to education for girls and productivity for women.

“Despite women being the ones who do a lot of water-related work, women have a lack of voice in relation to decisions for planning and implementation of service provision,” Willetts said.

Willetts said ensuring effective implementation of the governments’ recent commitment will need to take into consideration how the funding is applied, just as much as why.

“We are hoping to help inform how the new Water for Women initiative conceptualises gender equality and how this translates to program approaches,” Willetts said.

“It’s $100 million allocated to really progress this area, so it will be important to identify what kind of approach to gender equality is going to underpin that funding.”

Willetts’ latest project, which aimed to assess the impact of Plan International’s WASH monitoring tool on strategic gender outcomes in Vietnam, reinforced the importance of gendered power shifts at household and community levels.

“The aims were to understand the effects of the tool and to what extent it creates or reinforces gender equality changes,” Willetts said.

“Most women and men interviewed could articulate change in gender equality dynamics that had happened for them personally. And many of the changes could be traced back to the WASH policies and programs.”

The final results of this research will be made available shortly, while the Women in Water framing paper will be delivered to the Federal Government in the lead up to the Budapest Water Summit in November.

For more information about WASH research undertaken by Institute of Sustainable Futures, visit the University of Technology Sydney website. 

To learn more about the Sustainable Development Goals, register for the Australian Water Association's upcoming webinar on Monday 31 October.