Diverse voices are the name of the game - without them how can we achieve shared water prosperity?

District leader Ms Khanthaly Sangaloun consulting with women in her district to prepare for the impacts of climate change

District leader Ms Khanthaly Sangaloun is preparing her community for the impacts of climate change (SNV / Thepphakone Sykhammountry) 


Key takeaways

  • The impacts of climate change are universal - they affect all of us, but how we experience them is different and disproportionate.
  • Gender equitable, disability and socially inclusive (GEDSI) approaches and solutions need to be context-specific and locally led, especially by those most affected and traditionally most excluded - marginalised communities.
  • Local, traditional and Indigenous knowledges and voices are critical to finding solutions for climate resilience.
  • Climate resilience is not possible without a strong focus on inclusive WASH, which includes access to safe  sanitation as part of the climate action agenda.
  • Advocacy on the interconnectedness between SDG 5 - Gender equality, and SDG 6 - Clean water and sanitation for all, needs to not only to be sustained, but ramped up; gender equality is key to climate-resilient WASH and broader climate resilience, and inclusive WASH is foundational for strengthening gender equality outcomes.
  • A focus on shifting harmful social and gender norms is paramount, and when considering social and gender norms, we must ask - who benefits from these practices and who is excluded?
  • Inclusive multi-stakeholder approaches are essential to meaningfully support diverse voices in decision-making for climate-resilient solutions to water and sanitation challenges and needs.


Water for Women was strongly represented at the 10th World Water Forum in Bali, 18-25 May. The theme for the forum was "Water for Shared Prosperity." Water for Women recognises that the only effective way this can be achieved is by amplifying diverse voices and knowledges to accelerate progress towards SDG 6 – Clean Water and sanitation for all - so that a more climate-resilient world becomes a reality for everyone.

These messages were delivered loud and clear by Water for Women partners who attended the forum: Yayasan Plan International Indonesia, SNV Bhutan, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Nepal, the University of Technology Sydney – Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS-ISF), International WaterCentre of Griffith University (IWC), Solomon Islands National University (SINU), World Vision Papua New Guinea, iDE Cambodia, and WaterAid Australia.


The clear case for change

Through the two formal sessions convened by Water for Women; The power of local culture and knowledge for better water management, and Ensuring gender equality and social inclusion to achieve climate–resilient WASH for all, representatives from Water for Women partners Plan Indonesia, SNV Bhutan, IWMI Nepal, iDE Cambodia, IWC, SINU, and other Pacific partners shared their expertise, grounded in many years of experience in implementation and research on climate-resilient inclusive WASH in their country contexts. The audiences in these sessions were treated to the breadth and depth of what this looks like – both the achievements and the challenges.

Milika Sobey, a Natural Resource Management Specialist based in Fiji, spoke in the first session of the patriarchal culture in Fiji, in which women don’t have a voice in community decision-making processes, yet women have responsibility for water and food security and therefore are the first to notice the changes that impact their families. And the challenge – “How can women’s voices be heard as they are the ones who notice first the environmental impacts and the impacts on their families’ wellbeing?” Supporting the women with data collection on water quality through a citizen science model, sharing the knowledge between community women and graduate scientists, was the transformative approach applied by the SEEP project Milika highlighted. Using evidence, both scientific and cultural, the women were able to influence male community leaders with regard to water security issues and solutions. Milika also shared:

“... a key outcome was the increased sense of self-worth of the women in the community. A key learning is the critical need for consultation and supporting frontline community monitors.”


Similarly, Silvia Devina from Plan Indonesia shared how through community resource mapping for their Water for Women project, they found that some local culture and knowledge is gender blind and paternalistic, "... which is why GEDSI capacity building is so critical in supporting people to understand the importance of women’s and diverse voices in water management, governance, and decision-making.”

Novika Noerdiyanti, also from Plan Indonesia, reiterated these points and shared some of the ways that they're addressed: "Our research shows that women and people living with disabilities are the most affected people by climate change, and climate disasters increase the water and sanitation workload of households, for middle aged women in particular. It's important to ensure these groups can participate in mapping potential climate hazards. We need to ensure that the participatory rural assessment workshops are at appropriate times and accessible so that everyone can join, and a safe space is created for diverse groups to share information freely."

Sheilla Funobo from SINU shared how IWC's Water for Women research project Supporting Decentralised Rural Water supply and Climate Resilience in Pacific Islands focuses on empowering water committees with skills and governance in water planning and monitoring. “We encourage communities to reflect on past climate hazards so they better prepare for the future,” And reiterating that, “Including women in water stewardship at zone level is important because they can go back to their communities and share information with other women... It is important that we appreciate our own cultures and kastoms and recognize that many solutions are within them especially for behavioural actions.”

Darshan Karki from IWMI Nepal also shed light on persisting exclusionary traditional practices and emphasised that, “Behaviour change is as important as WASH infrastructure, but we do not see this in WASH investments…" Darshan also urged:

"When we revive traditional practices, we need to ask ourselves who is benefitting from them and who is being excluded because of them. Inclusion in WASH is not just tied to WASH, it is part of broader society, only focusing on more narrow aspects doesn’t change the broader structures that result in gender transformative WASH.”


Mary Alalo from the Pacific Community (SPC) also talked about persisting low levels of engagement in the Pacific when it comes to GEDSI; "...as people don’t realise the impacts of climate change and access to water and sanitation on girls and women. Water for Women Fund has done the research. We need to increase GEDSI engagement in water security as a key element of climate-resilient development."

Cesarina Quintana from Forest Trends, Peru, where strong gains have been made in recent years in terms of both gender equality and investments in nature based solutions, acknowledged that bringing policies and commitments to life, and together, has been challenging:

"….to bring these policies to life, we need tools and to engage Indigenous networks and women’s organisations. Real change happens when women are in the driving seat!"


Jigme Choden from SNV Bhutan emphasised the importance of ensuring Do No Harm approaches when engaging with communities and seeking to foster GEDSI in water and WASH services and systems:

" It is especially important for leaders to understand the Do No Harm approach, and linkages between GEDSI and WASH, so that they can support enabling environments for marginalised people – women and people living with disabilities – to be part of discussions and solutions."


Claire Meyer from iDE Cambodia echoed these messages and emphasised the important role GEDSI organisations have in WASH programming and implementation: "We don’t necessarily have the expertise, but we partner on the ground with GEDSI organisations who do have the skills, knowledge and networks. When seeking to address barriers that women face we need to consider the role of women as WASH market actors and within their households before designing and implementing programs."



Alongside other Australian partners for water development, Water for Women was part of the Australia booth convened by the Australian Government’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW), and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Other members included the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) and Commonwealth and Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Two booth sessions convened by Water for Women; A Circle of Water Stories and Tools for Transformation - Pathways towards a water secure and peaceful future, were well attended and echoed powerful messages on the need to center local and traditional knowledges in water management processes and structures for better outcomes, and that inclusive processes are integral to this.

Water for Women tools that have been co-created and implemented over the last six years were shared and partners were able to contribute their experiences in applying these tools to their local contexts, demonstrating that:


"The GEDSI Self-Asessment Tool is an important tool for self-reflection. It starts with the organization, through a process that takes the whole staff, including from finance to the field, to start reflecting on our assumptions about GEDSI. "

- Jigme Choden, SNV Bhutan


A highlight of the Circle of Water Stories booth session was the launch of the website of the Climate Resilient Sanitation Coalition, which is made up of a wide range of global actors, including multi-lateral agencies, academic institutions, philanthropy organisations, donors, and WASH organisations. The products, resources and materials that have been developed by partners of the Coalition, including Water for Women, can be found on this website. The Call to Action for Sanitation to be kept firmly on the agenda is critical to ensuring both mitigation - through reduction of methane emissions from poorly managed sanitation, and adaptation  - through climate-resilient sanitation solutions and research, as it directly relates to the health of people, institutions (such as schools and health care facilities), and the health of marine and freshwater ecosystems on which we all depend. 

As a partner in the  Global Multi-stakeholder Coalition for Water and Gender, Water for Women was involved in two sessions to support the UNESCO World Water Assessment Program-led Call for Action to Accelerate Gender Equality in Water. This was an opportunity to share the work and approaches of Water for Women partners, as well as paint the picture of what transformative WASH programs can look like, and why they are important to climate resilience. While the coming together of eminent gender equality advocates and practitioners to discuss and share their learnings and perspectives was inspiring, there was a sense of collective frustration at how slow the progress has been. A strong consensus permeated about the urgent need to collectively keep our feet on the accelerator and continue advocacy initiatives to influence governments, donors, multi-lateral agencies and policy makers about gender equality commitments and why these are central to better water management and stewardship, as well as broader social cohesion, peace and security outcomes.


“Can you really have climate resilience without inclusion? We think not.” 

-  Alison Baker

Women in a rural village of Solomon Islands presenting their insights at a community meeting

Women share observations of climate impacts on water and WASH in their community (Plan International and Live & Learn Environmental Education in Solomon Islands)

Water for Women also worked with our partners in South Asia, contributing to a panel as part of the sub-regional synthesis process, Climate resilient and inclusive WASH with a particular focus on inclusive sanitation management and service delivery for marginalized groups in South Asia. Santosh Nepal from IWMI facilitated the session and emphasised the critical role of WASH for public health and well-being, and Alison Baker shared many emerging practices from across the Fund that are contributing to improved sanitation for marginalised communities. All the panelists challenged the audience to take faster action and in a deeper, more nuanced way. In her opening remarks, Alison posed the question: "Can you really have climate resilience without inclusion? We think not." 


Dr Darshan Karki, also from IWMI, further emphasised that inclusion shouldn’t just be another ‘buzzword’, but an incentive to do things differently and come up with locally relevant solutions:

“You cannot just expect women and marginalised groups to come to the table to give their inputs. If you want true inclusion you need to think about the steps that need to happen for them to actively and meaningfully participate in decision making. It cannot be about tokenistic representation. We need to focus on the nuances of inclusion instead of just another buzzword. For inclusion, you have to go the extra mile."


In his summary remarks, Santosh also highlighted the importance of supporting communities to find their own solutions, saying: “They are the ones who know their own challenges, therefore they are the ones who know what the solutions are.”

This panel session reinforced many of the message that Water for Women, as well as other international organisations, were conveying throughout World Water Forum. Having these points echoed in different ways during the week demonstrates the growing recognition that inclusion of all voices, particularly of marginalised communities, is key to a more sustainable and equitable future. There is more work to do, but there is a sense that more people and organisations recognise the vital nature of inclusion and are taking action.


A Call to Action 

There was a common Call to Action that resonated across all these sessions:

  • Invest in systems, resources and processes that support diverse voices in planning and policy development – strong examples on how this can be achieved include community engagement and Leave No One Behind strategies, GEDSI responsive budgeting, GEDSI capacity development of WASH duty bearers and teams, strong multi-stakeholder approaches, engagement with rights holder organisations, and Do No Harm approaches for empowerment initiatives.
  • Work more intentionally, closely and resolutely with local and marginalised communities, including rights holder organisations to ensure that climate-resilient solutions are locally articulated and led – collaborative circles of dialogue with more emphasis on bottom-up approaches and both ways knowledge building are urgently needed to address structural issues that exclude the participation of marginalised communities.


Community resilience is integral to climate resilience. The experience and voices of Water for Women partners and development colleagues throughout the World Water Forum and beyond are testament to this. And the case for change is clear; to build community resilience, we need to shift from a deficit to strengths-based approach. To work more effectively and consistently towards achieving SDG 6, we need a strong GEDSI lens that supports transformative change, with adequate budgeting and resourcing. “Water for Shared Prosperity”, along with sanitation for all and for our ecosystems, depends on different and more holistic ways of working with each other. The planet can no longer sustain “business as usual.”



This Insight was written by Joanna Mott, Water for Women's GEDSI Adviser.


The views expressed in this article are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Water for Women, the Australian Government or our partners.




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