Women-led Inclusive WASH Jirgas building resilience in Pakistan

A young girl wearing a light blue school uniform crouches over a water pot outdoors, she is smiling as she splashes clean water from the pot over her face to cool off after the walk home from school.

A student returning from school washes her face using clean water from the nearby water source in district Buner, Pakistan. (IRC Pakistan)


“I had to go to fetch water approx. 12-14 times every day, with the installation of water pump[s] in the village, my life has completely changed for good. Now I have more time to do embroidery and my health is also improving.”


A mother of 12 children who lives in the district of Swat explains some of the changes she has experienced in her village, where Water for Women’s Leveraging Inclusive WASH for Empowerment (LIFE) project with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been working to improve access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene for all during the past five years.


Across three districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, including Buner, Peshawar and Swat, IRC has been working with communities, government stakeholders and duty bearers to foster inclusive decision-making around water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services to meet the needs of everyone in the community, and to strengthen the governance systems that underpin them. And since commencing in 2018, the changes have been transformative.


More than 159,720 people now have improved access to WASH, including over 78,200 women and girls and 11,170 people with disabilities.


In a patriarchal society that largely limits women’s participation in communal decision-making, engagement with influential religious leaders, community stakeholders and opinion leaders has helped to reshape community attitudes and behaviours and shift power imbalances. Targeted life and vocational skill sessions for marginalised individuals, including women and girls, people with disabilities and people from sexual and gender minority communities has improved their confidence to participate in decision-making and their ability to generate an income, further strengthening empowerment.


Women-led Inclusive WASH Jirgas (IWJs) that enable women to voice their WASH needs, concerns and ideas are also a significant part of this transformation. Established to mitigate gender disparities, gender segregated IWJs have allowed men and women to discuss and prioritise their WASH needs in separate collaborative forums. Village WASH Development Plans have then been formulated as a roadmap to identify and pursue community needs.


The IWJs have also proven instrumental in mobilising the Pakistan Approach to Sanitation. Members supported the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) and School-Led Total Sanitation approaches in the districts, which have ended open defecation in the 73 targeted villages and promoted safe sanitation and hygiene practices, including handwashing with soap.


“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” – a doctor explains the health transformation he has seen in the district of Buner.


The project adapted a two-way approach for improving community access to WASH services:

  • conducting capacity strengthening events for government line departments, such as the Water and Sanitation (WATSAN) Cell, Tehsil Municipal Administration (TMA) and the Public Health Engineering Department, and supporting the establishment of Management Information Systems to help with monitoring and mapping their resources and activities
  • arranging exchange visits for the communities to line departments to reduce service gaps and raise community awareness on the Right to Service Act.


The project has also extensively worked with WASH clubs in schools. The student members of these WASH clubs serve as change agents in promoting hygienic practices. Over time, these have evolved to become ‘environment clubs’ that also advance climate friendly behaviours in the community, in line with provincial government priorities.


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. Climate change will escalate risks and exacerbate impacts, particularly on vulnerable populations – inclusive water and WASH are critical connectors for community resilience and the ability to adapt and respond to increasing climate hazards.


The Leveraging Inclusive WASH for Empowerment 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:

  • establishment and advancement of IWJs to enable inclusive WASH decision-making within communities in the project districts, with nearly as many women now participating in the jirgas as men
  • installation of a solar-powered pump and system connected to a bore that now serves 140 households in Yakhdara rural village
  • partnership with TMA Daggar establishing a laboratory to test, monitor and improve water quality in district Buner.


Building on the LIFE project, Water for Women is partnering with IRC and partners in Pakistan from 2023-2024 to improve coordination and collaboration between communities, duty bearers and governments for inclusive and climate-resilient WASH services.


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 in decision-making to strengthen prospects for more holistic and sustainable solutions to climate related issues at all levels – from global to local.


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