Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: A Pathway to Realizing Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls

July 2019

Based on the contributions of 17 organisations and individuals, this position paper presents the business case for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as a critical pathway to realising the ambitions of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy – a rights-based framework to guide the country’s international development efforts that places gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at the heart of poverty reduction.

The paper draws on examples from the WASH sector and demonstrates how the sector takes an evidence-based, innovative, gendered and rights-based approach to transforming the lives of women and girls, and the communities in which they live.

The framework provides 10 reasons why WASH is a pathway to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls:

1. Women and girls are empowered when they have control over the resources to meet their WASH needs and participate in the provision of WASH services.

2. WASH is a pillar of public health.

3. WASH is a determining factor for nutrition outcomes.

4. Investments in WASH contribute to reducing sexual and gender-based violence.

5. Investments in WASH reduce the burden of unpaid work on women and girls, and facilitate participation in education, employment, leisure activities and decision making.

6. Appropriate water and sanitation facilities in schools leads to better education and health outcomes for girls and boys and supports girls’ menstrual hygiene management.

7. Water and sanitation services provide economic opportunities for women.

8. WASH is an important entry point to build national and local government capacity to meet the needs of women and girls.

9. WASH services are critical for meeting the basic needs of women and girls in humanitarian and fragile contexts.

10. The impact of climate change will increasingly test the resilience of sanitation systems and the availability of safe water owing to floods, droughts and extreme weather patterns, impacting vulnerable communities around the world.

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