Piercing Through the Glass Ceiling in WASH

March 2018


Blog by Sharon Roose

Today is International Women’s Day. The perfect occasion to talk about the glass ceiling that women working in the WASH sector experience, and how it holds us back in achieving the sustainable development goals.

Negative attitudes still persist, discouraging capable, assertive and talented women from having a successful future in the water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) sector. If we will want to achieve universal access to water and sanitation (SDG 6), we not only need to look at the practical needs of women and girls in getting access to WASH products and services (like Menstrual Hygiene Management for example), but we also need to look at the sector as a whole, and how women are represented in high decision making levels.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 5 and 6 combined, provide a great opportunity to address gender inequality and women’s empowerment in WASH.

Mainstreaming gender at all sector levels (and social inclusion) in WASH, creates the space we need to ensure equal representation. Strengthening the voice and capacity of women enables them to influence community and district planning in WASH committees.

But, if we want to achieve inclusive decision making and the meaningful participation of women at all levels in society, we need more than that!

Gender mainstreaming in governance roles, needs to be high priority:

We need to get a higher number of women into leadership positions in the sector, and to encourage them to be WASH champions at local, district and national levels. This might be difficult to obtain as men currently take decision making roles, especially in high ranked government levels.

In addition, we can move these decision makers into not reinforcing gender stereotype at work, and instead focus on integrating regulations and approaches that allow for an environment that fosters equality.

This means institutionalising gender inclusive approaches through policies, strategies, and practise. Once this is in place, we as women have a level playing field to not only participate in decision making, but to also to influence the agenda in going forward.

To push progress, there is clear need for evidence and disaggregated data that shows the situation of women in the WASH sector at different levels (community, district, and national). And, in order to measure this progress, we should focus on research and continuous monitoring, for example by tracking the number of women in WASH leadership roles.

Quite some advocacy work still needs to be done here. Inclusive WASH policies don’t happen overnight. If we really want to achieve SDG 6 in a sustainable manner, we should not only focus our efforts at programme level, but focus on getting women in influential roles at sector level. Because let’s face it: the world is way better off if we give more than half of humanity the right to reach their full potential, and smash that looming ceiling open!


Sharon Roose

Senior Advocacy Officer - V4CP (WASH)