Overcoming social barriers to climate-resilient and inclusive WASH in Papua New Guinea

A GEDSI officer in Papua New Guinea is running a session with a community

GEDSI Officer, Nancy Wobo runs a session with a community where World Vision PNG is working to improve WASH services (World Vision PNG / Nancy Wobo) 


This insight was written by Nancy Wobo, GEDSI Officer, WASH, WAVE Project to share her organisation's journey towards transformation for International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2023


As in many societies around the world, the majority of communities in Western Province, Papua New Guinea, are highly patriarchal in nature, with men holding the power at institutional and household levels, making them responsible for all the decision making. This is also exhibited through very strong social norms and taboos that have resulted in women and people with disabilities being marginalised.  The imbalance in the household power dynamics has been responsible for high rates of gender-based violence and the exclusion of women from most development activities in their communities. 

Western Province is also home to a significant number of people living with disability, who are often excluded from taking part in decision-making processes for development within their communities as well. 

The Water for Women WASH Voices for Empowerment (WAVE) project is designed to address these societal issues by ensuring that women and people with disabilities are at the centre of any development initiatives in their communities and actively participate in the decision-making processes. 


Seeds of transformation must be planted early

At the beginning of the project, staff had limited knowledge around gender equality, disability and social inclusion (GEDSI) concepts and diversity.  Male staff in particular still held strong beliefs and values, around traditional cultural and social norms that saw men as the heads of households and responsible for making firm and final decisions. They did not acknowledge or value women’s voices. Within the communities, women and people with disabilities faced discrimination and violence and had limited access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities. The team continued to grapple with these challenges to mainstream GEDSI into WASH interventions as development practitioners but were determined to change the order of things.


Transformation starts with you

“GEDSI became my favorite session and I see climate-resilient WASH from GEDSI lens.”

WASH Officer, Barbara Tabua


In April 2019, the project conducted GEDSI transformation training for all staff and partners, through which the team realised that women and people with disability were not being recognised or given opportunities to participate in most development activities, yet, were very important for the transformation of their communities and had significant contributions to make.

When the GEDSI Self-Assessment Tool (SAT) was introduced, it was a further eye opener for the team. Staff reflected personally on how far they had come, as well as the project, in terms of achieving outcomes of system strengthening, leaving no one behind, gender equality, and knowledge and learning. It provided the opportunity for discussions reflecting on strengths and how to improve processes that derive positive change. Staff identified achievements and challenges, and with collective understanding, set out priorities and actions that benefited the empowerment of women, girls, people with disabilities, and sexual and gender minority groups of all diversities. Working towards this GEDSI action plan gave the team a clear path towards Sustainable Development Goal 6: clean water and sanitation for all; and Leaving No One Behind.

“It was tough for me as a man to talk about gender equality and decision making. Also, Menstrual Hygiene Management was taboo, women and girls having menstruation are seen as impure and had to isolated themselves from social obligations. I wondered, how could I break the barrier as a male staff. But through the GEDSI transformation and SAT training, I now feel more compelled to do all that is within my means to see transformation in our communities.”

WASH Officer, Jerry Graham

A promo tile of the GEDSI Self Assessment Tool

Seeds of transformation must be nurtured

Through additional GEDSI refresher and ongoing capacity building trainings our WASH staff have become confident in promoting the rights of women and people with disabilities. Some areas covered have included leadership, gender and disability inclusive development, Do No Harm principlesChannels of HopeCommunity Based Disaster Risk ManagementConvention on the Rights of Persons with DisabilitiesFamily Protection ActChild and Adult SafeguardingGender Based Violence and referral pathways, sensitisation of  men and boys, and addressing negative attitudes and feelings towards vulnerable groups.


“We have managed to remove the barrier through our training of women and now women with and without disability are in leadership and making impact to achieve climate-resilient WASH.”

WASH Officer, Maureen Gebia


Wider communities in peri-urban and rural villages have also come to accept discussions on GEDSI and menstruation as normal. Men build latrines and shower blocks for women and girls. Menstrual hygiene management is openly discussed and women, girls, people with disabilities, and gender and sexual minority groups are given equal opportunities to participate meaningfully in leadership roles and decision-making in households, the community, organisations, and sectors/structures.


“We build ablution blocks for our wives and daughters to freely access when menstruating without fear and shame. We talk openly with other male colleagues on issues affecting vulnerable groups and develop best strategies to accommodate them. Gender based violence and child abuse cases are referred to appropriate services. “

Kurunti community member

Some people survey a newly built brick incinerator at a primary school for managing menstrual health and hygiene products
An incinerator built for a primary school for safe menstrual pad disposal (World Vision / Abbegail Wafi)

From seeds planted and nurtured, transformation grows


“As a manager with engineering background, I wondered how I would lead my team to bring in the transformation in our communities to a point where women and person with disability are fully accepted as stakeholders in the development of their societies, but thanks to the SAT training for making my staff to  realise the potential that they have to break through cultural barriers and make lasting impact in communities.”

Godfrey Bongomin, World Vision WASH Manager


The project continues to address the WASH needs of vulnerable groups of people, advocate and promote their rights and for their voices to be heard at all levels of authority within both national and sub-national government. It also continues to influence other areas within World Vision PNG to mainstream GEDSI and climate resilience. To date, the organisation has had to revisit its structure to respond to this, recruiting more GEDSI officers for projects working in other sectors, such as health, livelihoods and education. This is all attributed to the lessons learnt from the SAT training that was conducted within the WAVE project. Our team will encourage other projects within our organisation to use these lessons and explore the SAT itself for their staff.

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 the foundation for resilient communities.


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