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Making the critical connection between gender equality and effective water management

7 March 2017

women carrying water

A framing paper that makes the critical connection between empowering women and girls and ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all is now available from the ISF web site.

The framing paper was written for the High Level Panel on Water that was created by the United Nations in 2016 to ‘champion a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services’.

Australia is taking a lead on this issue, as our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is one of eleven sitting Heads of State and Government making up the High Level Panel on Water. The Australian NGO sector working in this space is very active and works collaboratively with Government to achieve the dual and mutually reinforcing aims of gender equality and access to water and sanitaiton. In addition, the Australian Aid program is supporting water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs with an explicit focus on gender equality, and our Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has also recognised the importance of WASH, women and girls for genuine development in our region.

On World Water Day – two weeks after International Women’s Day - Melita Grant, one of the authors of the Gender & SDG6: the Critical Connection framing paper, will speak about the symbiosis between universal WASH and gender equality.

She will be telling the audience at the Australian Water Association’s World Water Day seminar (register here) that universal access to safely managed WASH and appropriate management of water resources can only be achieved if the rights of women and marginalised peoples are fulfilled.

Women and girls as well as gender-discriminated peoples still endure the burden of inadequate WASH facilities in health care centres, in schools, in public spaces and in their own homes. And yet, the economic benefits of providing safely managed and accessible WASH services to all those who currently do not have them would be three to six times greater than the costs.

Universal access to safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and appropriate management of water resources will only be achieved if the rights of women and marginalised peoples are fulfilled.

Inequality, discrimination and social exclusion can be found within water governance and WASH policies, strategies and access to services. Social exclusion is often experienced by women; cultural minorities; youth; people with disabilities; older people; transgender and intersex people; the poorest of the poor; people considered low-caste; and indigenous peoples.

The key messages in the framing paper are:

Proactive and deliberate participation of women and gender-discriminated peoples at all stages is needed: Water governance and WASH issues affect gender-discriminated people differently, and these differences need to be identified and understood at all stages of WASH and water resource management.

Integration across the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals leads to more equitable and sustainable outcomes: The 17 SDGs call for an integrated approach to strategies, policies and implementation at the global and national levels. There is enormous potential in the WASH and water governance targets of Goal 6 (including domestic access to services, transboundary water management, reducing water pollution, increasing water efficiency and restoring water related ecosystems) to mutually reinforce positive outcomes of gender equality (Goal 5) and reduce inequality overall (Goal 10).

Good data underpins good practice: Improving water data systems underpins good water governance and WASH, but such systems ought not to be “gender blind”. Sex-disaggregated data can (at a minimum) contribute to gender-inclusive policy formulation. Data on gender inequalities in WASH and in water governance initiatives is also critical.


Grant, M., Huggett, C., Willetts, J. & Wilbur, J. Australian Water Partnership 2016, Gender and SDG 6: The Critical Connection. A Framing Paper developed for the High Level Panel on Water, Sydney, Australia.