Breaking down barriers to socially inclusive market-based sanitation in Myanmar.

Water for Women partners with Oxfam Australia to deliver Breaking Down Barriers to Socially Inclusive Market Based Sanitation in Myanmar to benefit communities, particularly those marginalised within these communities, in some of the poorest rural states in Myanmar. 


With a population of around 52 million people, Myanmar is experiencing rapid socioeconomic and political transition.  Yet the country remains amongst the world’s least developed, ranking 145th of 185 countries in the latest Human Development Index.

Various factors have hindered its socioeconomic development including a 50-year self-imposed isolation from the world, civil conflict, economic sanctions (1997 and 2012), unequal ownership and distribution of resources and inadequate poverty reduction and social protection measures.

While Myanmar outperforms most other low-middle income countries in the region for sanitation statistics, coverage is not geographically equitable or socially inclusive, with rural regions suffering the most from lack of access.

The two selected target areas for Oxfam’s Water for Women project, Rakhine in the west of the country and Magway in the central dry zone, present vastly different geographical, social, economic and operating contexts. 

Regional map of Myanmar

Rakhine State, where 83% of the population are rurally based, is one of the poorest states in Myanmar and is plagued by protracted underdevelopment and conflict.

Although the overall economic and social situation in Magway in Myanmar’s central dry zone is better than in Rakhine, it is a region exposed to climate related shocks due to a heavy reliance on rain fed agriculture.  In Magway, where 85% of the population live in rural areas and the major ethnicity is Burman, the spread of rain is shifting, causing high variability leading to crop failures.  There is insufficient resilience and capacity to manage water variability, which lies behind poverty and food insecurity.

Around 10 million people in Myanmar do not have a latrine.  Rakhine and Magway with their predominantly rural populations are particularly affected.

Over 75% of households in rural Rakhine are without access to a basic household latrine.

20% of households in rural Magway are without access to a basic household latrine.  This compares to the national average of 5% of households still practicing open defecation.

Lack of access to health and sanitation facilities in rural locations is compounded by traditional practices, including those related to gender norms. Women’s control over decisions within the household is limited, and in the target areas women have some of the lowest education levels in the country.

In a recent country analysis, it was highlighted that investment in improved sanitation and domestic water supply infrastructures has a considerable positive impact on health outcomes for the whole family, particularly women and children.

Myanmar Government’s recently released Rural WASH Strategy notes that there is limited understanding in Myanmar of roles and needs of women and men, girls and boys in relation to water and sanitation.  It identifies this as a key challenge to enable women, as the main users with responsibility for domestic water and for household sanitation, to become decision makers, while further research and broad partnerships are required to fully understand the disability context. 


Water for Women will be partnering with Oxfam in order to address some of these needs through the Breaking Down Barriers to Socially Inclusive Market Based Sanitation in Myanmar Project.

The project goal is improved health, wellbeing and gender equality in Rakhine and Magway, and the project is built on the right to household sanitation, which entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable sanitation.

Market-based strategies that strengthen local government, the private sector and communities to deliver and access services will be coupled with smart subsidies to ensure the entire community benefits from sanitation. This is the first full sanitation marketing project in Myanmar and will work closely with government and private sector suppliers to introduce and field test inclusive, sustainable and innovative approaches to sanitation marketing.

As well as strengthening the sanitation supply system and working with households on gendered decision making, this project aims to:

  • Support 40,000 beneficiaries through the construction and use of new toilets.
  • Reach 160,000 with direct hygiene face-to-face sanitation and/or hand washing messaging.
  • Indirectly support other households to access cheaper and improved products and services in the local markets.

“I believe this Water for Women project will enrich the lives of women from the target communities. Clean and safe latrines means dignity and well-being for these women… This project will create a safe space for women and girls and promote using the different kinds of facilities suited to the local context. Women in Myanmar play an important role within their families, so investing in the empowerment of women through this Project will also benefit their family members and the wider community."

- Ma Khin Hla, the Director of Yaung Chi Thit (a national organisation working for women’s empowerment and gender equality in Myanmar).


This project focuses on four key outcomes:

Outcome 1: Strengthened national and sub-national household sanitation systems in Myanmar

1.1 Government involvement, buy-in and allocation of resources in sanitation

1.2 Sanitation supply chains in Rakhine and Magway strengthened to meet demand


Outcome 2: Increased equitable and sustainable use of household sanitation

2.1 Women, men, boys and girls have equitable access to appropriate household sanitation

2.2 Households have a greater desire for positive sanitation practices

2.3 Households prioritise purchase of sanitation products


Outcome 3: Strengthened gender equality and social inclusion in Rakhine and Magway

3.1 Women and vulnerable groups with enhanced livelihood opportunities

3.2 Women have increased decision making and voice within their households

3.3 Women are mobilised for collective action in communities


Outcome 4: New evidence of socially inclusive market-led and smart subsidy approaches are available

4.1 Evidence and learning on market-based sanitation and smart subsidies in Rakhine and the Dry Zone generated

4.2 WASH stakeholders have a forum to discuss and advance development sanitation 

Australia is investing in Myanmar over a five-year period to achieve these outcomes. Water for Women is proud to be partnering with Oxfam to improve the lives of thousands of people in Rakhine and Magway in Myanmar.

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