Stronger systems for inclusive and sustainable WASH

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Learning series on systems strengthening in WASH

Water for Women aims to improve the health, gender equality and wellbeing of Asian and Pacific communities through strengthened national and subnational water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector systems with greater emphasis on gender and social inclusion, safely managed WASH and water security.

In 2021, Water for Women partners began to explore systems strengthening in WASH through a targeted learning agenda initiative by considering two primary learning questions:


How do Water for Women partners interpret, frame, understand and engage with WASH systems?

What changes are Water for Women contributing to in (local and national) WASH systems and how do these changes happen?


This series of learning products emerge from discussions under this initiative, which reiterates that WASH systems are made up of – and exist to benefit – people. 

Four learning notes focus on different areas of systems strengthening, published by Water for Women under the title, 'Stronger systems for inclusive and sustainable WASH'. 

A Learning Brief, launched during the Water and WASH Futures 2023 conference in Brisbane, synthesise insights documented in learning notes one to three, summarising lessons about WASH systems and the CSO contributions that strengthen them.

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Learning note one: Engaging with the people and actors within WASH systems

  • What are we learning about the drivers and barriers to change in WASH systems?
  • What are we learning about strengthening GEDSI in WASH systems?
  • Practical lessons for CSOs seeking to influence change in WASH systems



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Learning note two: Leveraging finance for more equitable and sustainable WASH

Sufficient and appropriate financing, one of the building blocks of
the WASH system, is essential to inclusive and sustainable WASH
services. This learning note, the second in the series, explores WASH financing as a critical component of the WASH system.

It presents lessons from across Water for Women civil society organisation projects and through the examples of seven project case studies.



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Learning note three: Shifting WASH systems towards greater equity and sustainability through sector planning, monitoring and review

Sector planning, monitoring and review (PMR) enables WASH systems to realise WASH rights and ensure that no one is left behind.

PMR can provide rhythm, enable collaboration, and drive learning, reflection and improvement. PMR also offers useful case studies of how change happens within WASH systems.

This learning note brings together reflections from Water for Women partners on how PMR contributes to systems change.



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Learning note four: Research contributions to WASH systems strengthening

This learning note highlights how research can contribute to WASH systems strengthening. It also demonstrates how the concept of ‘leverage points’ supports critical reflection on how research and other interventions influence systems change.

It is based on insights and case studies from Water for Women research partners and projects, shared through a joint workshop and associated participatory process. It is intended for researchers and practitioners working to support improved WASH in low- and -middle-income countries.


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Learning brief: Strengthening Systems for more Equitable, Sustainable and Climate-Resilient WASH - Lessons from Water for Women

This brief shares the lessons learnt about strengthening systems for inclusive and sustainable WASH from 20 Water for Women CSO projects across the Asia-Pacific region.

It is the culmination of a two-year-long participatory learning process under Water for Women’s Learning Agenda. The lessons presented synthesise insights documented in learning notes one to three, summarising and tying the lessons outlined in the learning notes together into a narrative about WASH systems and the CSO contributions that strengthen them.

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Water for Women acknowledges Fraser Goff of WaterAid Australia for his leadership of this collaborative Learning Agenda initiative and the authorship of these resources.

All Water for Women partners contributed extensively to this initiative in terms of scoping, sharing learnings and the synthesis of findings. We also recognise their leadership and support for progress towards strengthening inclusive, sustainable and resilient WASH systems across Asia and the Pacific.

This work was supported by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Special thanks to the members of the advisory group for this Learning Agenda initiative, who guided the initiative’s development, coordinated and led learning events and helped to synthesise the lessons learnt: Anwar Zeb and Junaid Khan of IRC Pakistan, Gabrielle Halcrow of SNV, Juliet Willetts of the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, Lien Pham of Thrive Networks/East Meets West Foundation; and Tom Rankin from Plan International Australia.

Thanks to WaterAid Australia colleagues who have supported the Learning Agenda initiative: Chelsea Huggett, Clare Hanley, David Shaw and Edmund Weking. Thanks also to the members of the Water for Women Fund Coordinator team, who played a substantial role in the development and delivery of the initiative and this learning note: Kate Orr, Matthew Bond, Alison Baker, Joanna Mott, Mia Cusack and Bianca Nelson Vatnsdal.

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