Women at the centre of inclusive water and WASH in Fiji

A woman stands beside a newly installed water tank in a rural village in Fiji, she is looking at the camera and smiling

Through Habitat for Humanity’s Water for Women project, the inclusion of women within community planning activities and school engagements has fostered more equitable and inclusive decision-making processes, leading to paradigm shifts in both men and women within the communities. (Habitat for Humanity Fiji)


In communities across the Ra and Ba provinces of Fiji, it was not uncommon to have water supplies rationed for up to three hours a day during the dry season, and to rely on carted water or have to resort to using lower quality water sources for daily water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) needs. And although women held responsibility for household water and WASH tasks, the overall representation of women on community water committees was only around 21%.


But over the past five years, Australia’s Water for Women project with Habitat for Humanity has been working to improve this situation in 18 communities and 11 schools across both provinces. The target communities are among some of Fiji’s most remotely situated, with high numbers of informal settlements, and highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including droughts, sea level rise, coastal inundation, severe storm surges and tropical cyclones.


Supported by Australia, the Strengthening community resilience and inclusion through improved WASH services in Fiji project was implemented from 2018 to 2022 by Habitat for Humanity and partners including: Vinaka Fiji, Ra Naari Parishad and Fiji National University’s National Training and Productivity Centre.


With a focus on the most marginalised within communities, specifically women and girls, people with disabilities, the project has directly benefitted some 5,470 people with improved access to WASH, including more than 2,700 women and girls and 117 people with disabilities.


The project has made significant progress towards increasing the agency of women in WASH governance structures, with an overall increase of women on WASH committees to 41%, including women being elected to six water committees that previously had none. Changes in attitudes towards women’s engagement on the WASH committees and support from male leaders has also resulted in wider community acceptance of women in leadership roles.


"The advantage of having women on the WASH committee is to break the barriers of gender inequality in the village. Women are the ones that use water on a daily basis in terms of washing, cooking, drinking and cleaning, thus it is important that they are included in the WASH committee as they are the ones that use water on a daily basis.”

- Youth leader and WASH committee member, Nasoqo community


Strengthened water committees now have the capacity and motivation to maintain infrastructure and support behavioural change within the communities, through ongoing initiatives such as water treatment through solar distillation and improved handwashing behaviours, to fully benefit from improved WASH infrastructure interventions.


New infrastructure in schools - which previously lacked adequate water supplies, sufficient toilets and had no menstrual hygiene facilities at all - complemented by school engagement on behaviour change has improved access to WASH at school for both students and staff. Teachers report a reduction in absenteeism among girls since the availability of menstrual hygiene facilities at schools.


“When I was in primary school at this school, we didn’t have clean water. We had to get clean water from the village. We only had two concrete water tanks at our school and looking back now, the water which was not safe for drinking water for children. I want to say thank you Habitat for helping us rebuild this school with the greatest gift - water.”

- Teacher, Naviti District school 


An inclusive community is an essential building block of climate resilience. Socially inclusive and cohesive communities are naturally more resilient, including to shocks from a changing climate, and they are more likely to have effective and sustainable water and WASH services and systems. 


The Strengthening community resilience and inclusion through improved WASH services in Fiji project was one of 20 Water for Women WASH projects to be delivered by civil society organisation partners in 15 countries in Asia and the Pacific from 2018-2022. Over the course of this first phase of the Fund, Water for Women supported more than 3.4 million people with improved access to inclusive WASH.


Some project highlights include:

  • delivery of COVID-19 pandemic support including prevention initiatives in communities and in schools
  • delivery of the Do No Harm pilot project and incorporation of Do No Harm principles and practices into project activities targeted at changing negative mindsets regarding gender and social inclusion, which has led to a paradigm shift in both men and women within the communities
  • delivery of handwashing behaviour change initiatives and training on water treatment through solar distillation, with communities reporting no new cases of diarrhea or typhoid since participation.

A climate-resilient future needs #WomenUpstream

Women are at the forefront of change - Recognising and valuing the critical contributions of women, including Indigenous women, as decision-makers, stakeholders, farmers, educators, carers and experts across sectors and at all levels is key to a climate-resilient future. Recognition and meaningful action on this front is a “game-changer” and the key to successful and sustainable solutions to climate change and achieving SDG6.

Climate change will escalate risks and exacerbate impacts, particularly on vulnerable populations. Inclusive and equitable water and WASH are critical connectors for community resilience, equipping communities to adapt and respond to increasing climate hazards.

On World Water Day we call for diverse perspectives at the decision-making table to strengthen prospects for more holistic and sustainable solutions to climate related issues at all levels – from global to local.


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