Strengthening gender equality and women's empowerment in WASH

A group of women and men stand together outside a building in Cambodia. They are researchers with the University of Technology Sydney and Thrive Networks-East Meets West.

Partners from UTS-ISF and Thrive Networks - East Meets West in Cambodia (UTS-ISF) 


Our thanks to research partners at the University of Technology Sydney - Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS-ISF) for this project reflection. In partnership with SNV, Plan International Australia, WaterAid, iDE and Thrive Networks – East Meets West, they have recently completed their research project, Gender in WASH Partnerships, Workforce and Impact Assessment


Where we started


When we started this project, there was little interest or focus on gender and inclusion in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) workforce. Our previous research on enterprises showed women may not benefit as people assume and intend. Research in Cambodia and Indonesia uncovered issues, disparities and challenges in government and the private sector.

Partnerships between rights holder organisations (RHOs) and WASH organisations are growing in number, and have been found to lead to mutual and transformational benefits for both types of organisations and to strengthen the WASH system overall.

This research investigated how civil society organisations (CSOs) can more strategically engage with civil society, government and private sector to achieve gender and socially inclusive WASH policy and practice and measure relevant gender equality impacts. Three cross-cutting themes of women’s voice and leadership, intersectionality and empowerment informed the research.


The project


The overarching objective was to support partner and Water for Women CSOs and the wider WASH sector to strengthen gender equality outcomes in WASH and their measurement.

We conducted research with partners in Indonesia and Timor-Leste to better understand the drivers, benefits, and challenges of engagement between WASH sector CSOs and gender equality and women’s rights organisations, including sexual and gender minority organisations.

The original scope of the research was extended to incorporate climate change issues and organisations to support the next phase of Water for Women grants (2023-2024) and the WASH sector more broadly. We forged a strong partnership with the International Water Association for this component of the project.

Two major outputs were developed; the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – Gender Equality Measure (WASH-GEM) training website, and qualKit, curated online qualitative monitoring, evaluation and learning tools for projects exploring gender equality and social inclusion in WASH interventions.

Uptake of the WASH-GEM was facilitated for CSO program teams in six countries and a new climate module successfully piloted in Bhutan, Lao PDR and Nepal. The results of the pilots directly informed SNV’s design for Water for Women projects in the extension phase (2023-2025).

Photovoice was also trialled in Bhutan as a qualitative method to examine climate and gender intersections. 


A group of men and women are sitting around a table with laptops and water bottles in discussions. They are reserachers from the University of Technology Sydney - Institute for Sustainable Futures and partners at Thrive Networks - East Meets West in Cambodia.

“The team's exposure to WASH-GEM tools and modules provided insights on GEDSI, and climate change and it has strengthened our existing knowledge and capacity.”

- WASH-GEM research participant

Where we are now


There are major disparities in gender equality and diversity in water utilities and WASH workforce. The guidance and database produced through this research are important resources to support water and sanitation organisations to improve gender equality and inclusion. 

The evidence, guidance and practical tools developed also support CSOs to more effectively partner to maximise WASH, gender equality and inclusion outcomes in programs.

We have continued to provide support to partners in the analysis and sensemaking of results from the WASH-GEM, climate module, and the climate-focused photovoice, which used the tools and support materials made available within the WASH-GEM training toolkit and the qualKit.


“I found the workshop very insightful, specially [sic] since I am a young professional. Made me realise that others face the same experiences as me. Overall I really enjoyed the workshop.”

- Young water professional and training participant in India



Broader WASH sector contributions


Our work has both been a driving force and contributor to a groundswell of action and attention to this area and provided ready access to much needed evidence and practical guidance.

Guidance, partnerships, and academic outputs produced through this project will continue to support WASH and RHO partnerships in the coming years, including collaboration with climate change focused organisations in the Blue Pacific.

An additional unanticipated outcome of this project has been the strong relationships formed between research project partners, Latrobe University, the Developmental Leadership Program and other co-authors during the development of a journal article (not yet released). Increased understanding of each other’s work and engagement in the Pacific will support future engagement and collaboration.


Other knowledge and learning from the project:



Above left: UTS-ISF partners conduct research with members of the Thrive Networks - East Meets West team in Cambodia (UTS-ISF)

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