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UNESCO reiterates call for gender-transformative policies in water domain

Published: 22nd Feb, 2022


  • The theme of the 7th International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly was Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Water Unites Us.
  • It brought together women in science and experts from around the world, high-level government officials, representatives of international organizations and of the private sector
  • to discuss the water nexus in achieving the three pillars of sustainable development
    • economic prosperity,
    • social justice and
    • environmental integrity


  • Gender equality remains out of reach in the water domain.
  • Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water.
  • Yet they make up less than 17% of the total paid workforce in the water sector and an even smaller minority in research and decision-making positions.
  • Achieving gender equality in the water sector would be essential to reaching both the fifth Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality and the sixth one on water and sanitation.


Link between Gender and Water:

  • Gender defines the roles, responsibilities and opportunities of people in society, and very often, determines the potential they can achieve.
  • This leads to women and men having different knowledge, talents, opportunities and needs.
  • Gender also determines one’s relationship with water because it shapes the needs, access, use and benefits with respect to this vital resource.

Importance of Disaggregated Data:

  • When collecting disaggregated data, these differences become evident.
  • The collection of water data disaggregated by sex, age, and other dimensions is a crucial step to better understand how water is used, managed and distributed.
  • Therefore, conducting gender analyses allows us to identify and understand gender issues, and how to adequately address these in planning, projects and policy.
  • Good data and robust gender analyses are indispensable to reach the ultimate goal of gender equality.

Impact of water crisis on Women :

  • Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the lack of access to essential water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
  • Women are largely responsible for household water, sanitation and hygiene management.
  • Women’s Water-Fetching Responsibility: Women and girls are responsible for fetching water in most households where a drinking water source is off-premises.
  • This practice has implications for women’s health, workloads, and caloric expenditure.
  • When girls carry water over long distances, the time available to them to pursue education is reduced.
  • Water-fetching responsibilities also add to the burden of unpaid domestic work, decrease time towards other income-generating activities, and affect leisure and nonessential activities.
  • Women’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Needs: Women have an increased need for water for hydration, sanitation and hygiene during menstruation, pregnancy, the postnatal period, and caring for sick family members or young children.
  • They bear a disproportionate burden when these basic services are lacking, and face health, security and psychological vulnerabilities due to inadequate access and decision-making control.
  • Therefore, access to water and sanitation, if delivered well, empowers women economically and socially.
  • If not delivered well, it may undermine women’s position at home and in the community.

What needs to be done?

  • Gender-Neutral Approach: Policy makers and decision makers need to recognize that both women and men’s involvement are integral to sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene management.
  • Women Leadership: Women’s leadership and decision making power in water and sanitation is critical. Therefore, enabling policy frameworks backed by resources, training and political will, are vital to developing and sustaining women’s leadership in the water sector at the local, national and global level.
  • There is a need to invest in developing the next generation of water leaders, by collaborating with colleges, water utilities and districts, using experiential learning, internships and interacting with experts.
  • Reduce Unpaid labour: As the women already spend 2.6 times more hours than men on unpaid activities, including caregiving and domestic work. Our policies needs to ensure their involvement in water and sanitation services does not further contribute to the burden of unpaid work, or decrease the ability to earn an income.


The combined effects of the climate crisis and water crisis are deepening inequalities and increasing poverty. To break the cycle, we need to ensure that women and girls study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the same proportions as their male counterparts.

We must do better. Not only because gender equality is a human right but also because gender equality in general and especially in the water domain will be one of the building blocks of a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.

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