Why is Gender Equality and Social Inclusion important?  

The collective work of Water for Women leads and inspires the global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector to adopt evidence-based socially transformative practice to contribute to eliminating inequalities and achieving sustainable positive change for all. The Fund is committed to gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) in line with global commitments in WASH and beyond, and further contributing to the well-established evidence base regarding the connection between inclusive, equitable and sustainable WASH, and improved gender equality and social inclusion outcomes (WSSCC et al, 2006).

The Fund’s GESI approach supports the ambition of the SDGs to ‘leave no-one behind’. Water for Women recognises gender as a fundamental and globally universal dimension of inequality and denial of rights, while also recognising other dimensions of in equality and rights, such as disability, age, sexual and gender minorities (SGM), ethnic minorities, and people living in extreme poverty and/or remote communities. Water for Women supports efforts to address different forms and contributors to poverty, marginalisation and inequality.

Along with our partners, we are developing and sharing learning on this throughout the life of the Fund.



Cover of the  Decrease text size Default text size Increase text size Print This Page Share This Page Towards Transformation in WASH: Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Self-Assessment Tool resource

The Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Self-Assessment Tool (GESI SAT) represents the culmination of years of collaborative work across the Fund, and has been co-created by Water for Women and the Sanitation Learning Hub

It is a facilitation guide for WASH project managers, researchers and self-assessment facilitators to support individual and collective reflective practice on the extent and quality of gender equality and social inclusion work in WASH projects and organisations.

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A thumbnail of the cover of the Pivotal not peripheral menstrual hygiene brief

Towards the end of 2020, Water for Women undertook a review of menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) initiatives to collate information from partners working within a broad range of contexts, and to draw out lessons for good practice in inclusive MHH programming within the WASH sector.

This Learning Brief is the product of that learning. 

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SGM Inclusive WASH and COVID-19

Prepared by Edge Effect (SGM Inclusion Advisors to Water for Women) and Water for Women, this guidance note has been developed to address the lack of resources specific to sexual and gender minority inclusion and WASH in COVID-19 responses.

During COVID-19, the discrimination and exclusion faced by sexual and gender minorities (SGM) has been amplified. This guidance note has been developed to help our partners and the broader WASH sector actively support sexual and gender minorities so that they are not left behind in COVID-19 WASH responses.

More on SGM Inclusion

Disability Inclusive WASH & COVID-19

Prepared by CBM Australia (Disability Inclusion Advisors to Water for Women) and Water for Women, this guidance note has been developed to address the lack of resources specific to disability inclusion and WASH in COVID-19 responses.

WASH is a first line of defence against COVID-19 and our partners have been busy adapting their programming to help communities reduce their risk of exposure. This note provides technical advice and considerations to ensure all activities are disability inclusive.

More on Disability Inclusion

Cover thumbnail of a learning brief

The Water for Women Fund sees an intentional focus on ‘Do No Harm’ (DNH) approaches as a critical way of supporting an ethical approach to inclusion. This includes addressing the risk of backlash that comes with supporting representation and decision-making of women and marginalised groups to ensure that no one is left behind in WASH programming. The Fund aims to sharpen collective understanding and practice of DNH as a focus for learning as part of strengthening ‘inclusive WASH’.  

This Learning Brief, 'Do No Harm’ for inclusive WASH: working towards a shared understanding’ aims to advance the Fund’s collective learning on these issues by reflecting on the discussions throughout the Systems Strengthening for Inclusive WASH learning event held in December 2019 in Nepal, through the lens of these DNH dimensions.

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Smiling Fijian women

The empowerment of women and marginalised people is central to Water for Women, and recognised as key to leaving no one behind in achieving clean water and sanitation for all (SDG 6). But it can come at a cost, if we do not pro-actively address backlash and potential harms involved in challenging entrenched gender and social norms.

This is what is known as having a ‘Do No Harm’ lens. With funding support from the Australian Government, Water for Women supported one of its CSO partners, Habitat for Humanity Fiji (HFHF), to undertake a pilot in Do No Harm (DNH) on women’s empowerment in WASH.  The pilot involved collaboration with the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and supported the use and adaptation of IWDA’s DNH toolkit: Integrating the Elimination of Violence Against Women into Women’s Economic Empowerment Program. Reflections and lessons learned from this are shared in this Water for Women learning brief.

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Do No Harm Pilot | Fiji

In Fiji, our partner, Habitat for Humanity is strengthening community resilience and inclusion through improved WASH services in 18 communities across Ra and Ba. Habitat’s Community WASH training package supports the participation of women, people with disabilities and marginalised groups because actively involving all people within communities leads to more effective and sustainable outcomes in WASH.

In July 2019, Habitat for Humanity Fiji trialed a Do No Harm pilot with two of these communities.

This film captures that process.



Towards Transformation

Download Water for Women's Towards Transformation strategy summary to learn more about this approach, which is touched on below.

View the Towards Transformation in GEDSI WASH Continuum

Core Concepts 


This is both a process - something that can be done - and an outcome that can be achieved. Transformative process fosters meaningful inclusion of the marginalised in mainstream activities and decisions. By genuinely listening to new voices, we can create deep and lasting change. By supporting opportunities for greater levels of voice and influence by the oppressed or marginalised, we can disrupt and change the mainstream way of doing things. Thus, a cycle of change is set in train, leading to transformation (outcome).

Transformative practice

This is an explicit intention to transform unequal power relations. This goes beyond improving the condition of the lives of women and other marginalised groups. It seeks to improve their social position (how they are valued in society) as well as the full realisation of their rights. It actively promotes redistribution and sharing of power and control over decision-making, resources and benefits. Transformative practice, which will vary in response to different contexts, leads to transformative outcomes. 




 Principle 1: Hold ourselves accountable
Transformation starts with ourselves. Social transformation is not something we can ‘do to’ others – we must live it ourselves. Positive societal change can only happen if we are prepared first to challenge and change ourselves, individually and collectively. We must recognise and address our individual biases, be honest about our own power and privilege, and listen deeply and respectfully to the lived experience and
perceptions of others. We must challenge the attitudes, cultures and behaviours within our organisations. This can only happen if our transformative capacity, expertise, work and partnerships are resourced.
 Principle 2: Do No Harm and address violence
 Any WASH or other program can potentially result in negative consequences, particularly for

marginalized people, who may inadvertently be exposed to increased stigmatisation or risk of
gender-based or other targeted violence. The Fund sees ‘harm’ as a continuum,
understanding that discriminatory attitudes are the underlying cause of violence and other
severe harm. To ‘do no harm’ requires deep understanding of the complex dynamics of
people’s lives. It requires robust program monitoring systems, responsive to unintended
consequences. Accepting violence as a daily reality in the lives of women and marginalised
people, transformative practice recognises the importance of understanding the causes and
dynamics of such violence. It requires understanding of and linking with survivor-centred and
rights-based prevention and responses services for advocacy and referral.

 Principle 3: Understand and challenge power and privilege
 Social exclusion must be understood in the context of multiple hierarchies of power based on

gender, class, race or religious superiority, colonialism, age, ability, sexuality and others.
These hierarchies have deep historical roots, are reinforced by deeply entrenched attitudes
and norms, and by discrimination and violence. Policies, services and programs are largely
designed by, and (consciously or unconsciously) in the interests of, those who belong to more
powerful groups. Situations and needs of marginalised groups are often deprioritised, and
marginalised people face barriers to advocating for fairer policies and systems. A
transformative approach will challenge unequal distribution of privilege and power, shifting
from ‘power over’ to ‘power with and within’. This links in with the concept of ‘allyship’.

 Principle 4: Address inevitable resistance and backlash
 Promoting the rights of marginalised people takes place in the context of, and can come up

against, complex cultural, political and economic interests. Resistance can be seen as active
or passive avoidance of change, while backlash is often understood as more extreme and
aggressive forms of resistance. Resistance can come from people of any gender, individually
or collectively, in any setting, and can take many forms (either implicitly or explicitly).
Understanding that resistance is inevitable and being prepared for it is the starting point for
developing effective strategies to address it.

 Principle 5: Think and act holistically
Holistic thinking is essential to transformative WASH practice. Sustainable development,

including WASH, calls for recognition of the interconnectedness between diverse human and
other factors. The 2030 Agenda and SDGs are framed around five pillars: people, planet,
prosperity, peace and justice, and partnership. None of these can be considered in isolation.
Together, these aspects form a useful framework for a holistic approach to transformative
WASH. It is also useful to consider the implications of practice for people ‘here and now’,
people ‘elsewhere’ and for future generations (OECD, 2016).

 Principle 6: Place the right people at the centre
 It is essential that marginalised people are at the centre of, and lead the way in, their own

development. Useful concepts here include ‘nothing about us without us’, ‘intersectional
inequalities’ and ‘allyship’. This principle requires availability of sufficient skilled expertise and
that we work closely with and resource rights-holders organisations that represent
marginalised people. It means using both ‘mainstream’ and ‘twin track’ approaches; and
recognising the different capacities, situations and needs of people at different stages of their
lives. While this Strategy takes an integrated approach to inclusion, it sees moving towards
gender equality as a fundamental concern and the interests of women and girls as paramount.

 Principle 7: Push the boundaries of transformative practice
 The Fund creates an opportunity to collectively identify and strengthen evidence-based

practice on some of the most challenging aspects of GESI-transformative practice. The top two
priority issues identified by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) who responded to a survey,
were ‘do no harm and respond to violence’ and ‘addressing resistance and backlash’. Other
issues discussed were ‘transformative organisations’, ‘integrating approaches to intersectional
disadvantage’, ‘expanding thinking and practice on disability in WASH’, and ‘addressing
sexual and gender minority rights in WASH’. Other issues were raised during development of
the Strategy, resulting in agreement to incorporate ‘engaging men and boys as partners for
change’ as a cross-cutting dimension of each of the boundary-pushing issues. Identification of
ways that the Fund can collectively push the boundaries of transformative WASH practice will
be continuously reviewed through the life of the Fund.

What is transformative practice

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