LIFE lessons on inclusive WASH action in Pakistan

Two young Pakistani girls wearing long black scarfs that are draped over their heads and shoulders stand side-by-side in front of a toilet block. A basin with a shelf and mirror above it can be seen between two closed wooden doors that make up the toilet facilities behind them.

Using sign language to communicate with an IRC team member, these two young girls expressed their gratitude for the new toilets at their school for children with with hearing and speech impairments (IRC Pakistan)


These young girls are students of a school for children with hearing and speech impairments, situated in the district of Swat, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan. Using sign language to communicate with an IRC team member, they expressed their gratitude for the safely managed latrines that they and their fellow students now have access to at school thanks to Australia’s Water for Women project with IRC, Leveraging Inclusive WASH for Empowerment (LIFE). 

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's patriarchal society, traditional Pakhtunwali cultural norms limit the participation of women, people with disabliities and other marginalised groups in community decision-making processes. This includes decisions affecting everyday aspects of life that are central to their health and well-being, including access to inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services.

To improve community access to WASH services in schools and throughout villages in Swat, Buner and Peshawa, the LIFE project adapted a two-way approach. IRC conducted capacity strengthening events for government line departments, including the WatSan Cell, Tehsil Municipal Association and Public Health Engineering Department, and supported the establishment of management information systems to enable them to effectively monitor and map their resources and activities. IRC also arranged exchange visits for communities to line department to help reduce service gaps and increase peoples' awareness of Pakistan's Right to Public Services Act.


“I am working in this health facility as a medical practitioner for many years and can confidently say that since the installation of water schemes in the surrounding villages, the incidence of water borne diseases and skin diseases have drastically reduced.”

Doctor from Buner


To address social disparities, IRC formed gender segregated Inclusive WASH Jirgas (IWJs), allowing men and women to separately discuss and prioritise their WASH issues. Conventionally, Jirga is a male-oriented body and all decisions – even those regarding women – are made in the Jirga by men. With input through these IWJs, Village WASH Development Plans were established, providing a roadmap for the community to identify and pursue everybody's WASH needs - including people with disabilities, women and girls, and other marginalised groups.

The IRC team also worked with community stakeholders and opinion leaders to shape communities’ behaviors towards marginalised groups and to analyse power imbalance. For those from marginalised and minority groups, life and vocational skill sessions have improved their confidence to participate in decision-making processes and increased their ability to generate income.


 A women poses with colourful upcycled decorations in hand. She is sitting on a timber bench infront of her home in a rural village in Peshawar, Pakistan, wearing a light coloured scarf that covers her head, shoulders and body. Her young son can be seen standing in the background to the right of the bench.

This woman is a member of a women-led IWJ in Peshawar. The women handcrafted decorative items from waste materials as part of an IRC Participatory Learning and Action training module, deciding to upcycle items instead of binning or burning them (IRC Pakistan)


Women-led IWJs represent a significant transformation. Not only do they ensure women’s participation, and that of other marginalised people and groups in decision-making around water and WASH in their communities and afford them social and economic opportunities, but they also surface important first-hand knowledge and experience to strengthen climate-resilience. As those who are primarily responsible for meeting household water and WASH needs, women and girls are at the forefront of water and WASH in their communities and at the frontline of climate change.

Collectively, the IWJs played a substantial part in ending open defecation in all 73 targeted villages across the distrcits by the end of 2022. As part of the LIFE project, IRC supported Community-Led Total Sanitation efforts, and School-Led Total Sanitation activities, including school WASH clubs and WASH in Schools educational programs, under Pakistan's Approach to Total Sanitation.

Building on these achievements, IRC’s LIFE II project is now furthering accessible and socially inclusive WASH in the districts of Swat, Buner and Peshawar, with a renewed focus on integrating climate resilience in systems and services for sustainable outcomes. By the end of 2024, LIFE II aims to directly benefit 123,980* people living in these districts with climate-resilient and inclusive WASH.



December 3rd is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

This year's theme, 'United in action to rescue and achieve the SDGs for, with and by persons with disabilities' conveys the solidarity and accelerated efforts needed now in order to get many of the Sustainable Development Goals back on track for 2030 - especially those for persons with disabilities that are lagging even further behind.

Across Asia and the Pacfic, Water for Women partners are united in action for SDG 6 - safe water and sanitation for all - upon which all 17 goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development rely.

Working in partnership with Organisations of Persons for and with Disabilities, rights holder groups, communities, sector stakeholders and governments, our partners are accelerating access to climate-resilient, gender equitable and disability inclusive WASH services for all.

With a core focus on systems strengthening and commitment to leave no one behind, partners are also helping to build resiience within the networks and infrastructure that underpin these services. 

Together, we have reached more than 3.4 million people in 16 countries so far, including almost 70,000 people living with disabilities and more than 1.7 million women and girls.

Inclusive communities are resilient communites.



*Project targets are based on partner Civil Society Organisations (CSO) project baseline studies. Project targets are updated periodically in response to changes in context as appropriate.


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