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Gender Mainstreaming in the Water Sector

General Background

It has been found that in sub-Saharan Africa more than 40% of the population do not have access to improved water sources.  Examining the impact of water and sanitation on women’s lives, and how securing clean water can improve their health and productivity, reduce maternal mortality, improve their livelihood and wellbeing and that of children, as well as its importance for povertyreduction, cannot therefore be underestimated .

Research has shown that improved water supply, combined with micro-enterprise development and capacity building programs, has the potential to reduce poverty in semi arid areas. Bringing water sources closer to the home has proved to have multiple benefits, including economic and social advantage for women and girls and the community at large. Studies have suggested that in addition to reducing the time spent fetching water, it also reduces women’s and girls’ vulnerability to violence.

Easy access to safe drinking water and appropriate sanitation facilities improves, among other benefits, the health status of women and children. Improved sanitation is also closely linked to personal dignity, improved security for women and young adults, and girls’ school attendance.

Why Gender Mainstreaming in the Water Sector?

Gender is the process of society assigning different roles and responsibilities to men, women,  boys and girls. It differs from sex and should not be confused nor used synonymously. Gender mainstreaming aims at making women’s and men’s concerns an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of polices, projects and programmes. 

The Government has embedded gender in performance contracts to ensure corporations report on gender issues in their operations. The new constitution and other international policies recommend equity in the access and management of resources and services for both women and men; hence the growing need to focus on gender matters.

The water sector is generally male-dominated, with a high technical skills gap for females. There is thus need to develop strategies for addressing the imbalance.

Gender mainstreaming in water utilities is important for the right targeting of services, opportunities and benefits, i.e in order to realize positive impact on investments, right interventions and right beneficiaries. It is also important for ensuring equity in terms of opportunities for both men and women through decision-making, as well as access to services and benefits. For sustainable equitable development to take place there is need for ownership, by the users, of the interventions as they will desire to maintain the facilities. The effective participation of people and willingness to pay for services will enhance financial sustainability to operate, maintain and expand services. It will also result in economic efficiency in the use of the facilities. A gender focus will ensure the tapping of all the potential in human resource in the development agenda, and also promote an all-inclusive stakeholder participation in accessing and controlling of available resources.

Through the gender perspective in development, management, operations and maintenance , as well as monitoring and evaluation of  programs the differential impact of water and sanitation services on men, women, boys and girls can be identified and in turn inform future development plans.

By focusing on the different needs of women, men, youth and other vulnerable groups, equitable distribution of resources including decision-making on them can be enhanced.

The water sector must also take cognizance of internationally-approved policies and benchmarks such as MDG’s, Vision 2030 and the new constitution on the rights of men and women to access clean water and sanitation -- and respond to them.

Challenges facing the water and sanitation sector

The water and sanitation sector faces serious key challenges which have slowed down the mainstreaming of gender issues in the utilities’ operational activities.  A major factor is a lack of sex disaggregated data and tools for monitoring and evaluating project impacts. There is a big gender disparity in the sector in favour of the male, with a technical skills gap that disadvantages women.

There is also a general negative attitude towards women taking up technical work, as a result of which there is low or non-existent technical capacity among women. Poverty levels are high while understanding and education levels are low.

Most utilities have low information on gender or even capacity for gender mainstreaming. There is lack of moral support for gender mainstreaming at the institutional levels; gender activities are not included in work plans and are hence treated as a side issue.

Gender activities are not specifically budgeted for, making them difficult to implement. There is also a low implementation of Affirmative Action, there being a general lack of awareness on how to embed the various roles and responsibilities that women and men can play in the implementation of projects and programs.

There is scarcity of gender information on impact of projects. Socio–cultural limitations exist and these limit equal participation of women and men in development activities.


Kenya is a water-scarce country with inadequate supplies.

There are inadequate indicators for monitoring the gender role impacts which also makes it difficult to develop a monitoring framework. There has not been any focus on gender in the designing, implementation and management of projects. There is also low participation of women in decision-making. Current status of gender issues in water projects In the rural areas women travel long distances in search of water, while men play a minimal role in this respect.

Women suffer physical violence especially sexual harassment (including rape) as they search for water, particularly in the rural areas and informal settlements.

Water projects are managed by men who control the finances, with women generally believing they need political connections to be elected on water committees.

Their participation in the management of water affairs at community level is hampered by their being overloaded with household chores. Girls’ education in rural areas suffers because they are involved in the search for water at the expense of attending school. In informal settlements women operate water kiosks but do not make decisions.

Progress made

The Ministry of Water and Irrigation has set up a Gender Desk Office to coordinate policy implementation on gender mainstreaming in water utilities. Benchmarking visits by utilities to other countries to study the best practices and share experiences on gender mainstreaming have been conducted with the support of the MWI and the World Bank. During the last financial year a team of gender focal points visited India and observed advances that India has made in women participation in leadership and in the implementation and management of projects and self help groups right from the community level.

All utilities have established gender focal points and committees which implement gender action plans developed during gender mainstreaming training sessions and workshops funded by the World Bank. Gender has now been integrated in water and sanitation services projects.


Utilities, through the trained Gender Focal Points and Committees, are now internally creating awareness on gender mainstreaming and the implementation of the action plans they developed.

Collection of Gender Disaggregated Data is ongoing, though progress has been slow. Such data will aid in targeting provision of water and sewerage services.  The data will also assist in the alignment of designs and plans and the implementation of development programs to suit the specific needs of women, men, youth and vulnerable groups.

The utilizes are also being monitored on compliance to  the National Policy on Affirmative Action, that requires 30% gender representation, in the  recruitment programs at the WSBs and WSPs. In AWSB area of jurisdiction there are 110 male and 56 female members of staff.

There is commitment among the utilities to implement the 30% gender representation rule. In the utilities, gender mainstreaming has been incorporated in the performance contracts. Gender on its own may not be appealing, so gender activities will be integrated in the core duties.

Development of water utility gender toolkit

To address the existing gaps in gender mainstreaming in the utilities, the World Bank in collaboration with MWI, WASREB, AWSB and Gender and Water Alliance has developed a draft Water Utility Gender Mainstreaming

Toolkit for use by utility managers, staff and stakeholders who are looking to address improvement in water and sanitation services in a more holistic way. The toolkit focuses on tailoring and targeting services to segments of the society who have no adequate access to utility services. It also provides a set of tools for gender mainstreaming within water operators. Through three key change areas the toolkit provides guidelines on how to use specific tools for the implementation, operation and monitoring of water and sanitation services.

These are:

 1) developing services

2) utility operations and

3) enabling environment.

The first key change area ensures that water and sanitation development efforts take into consideration processes that incorporate gender concerns for improvement of water services, while the second assists the utilities to be attentive to gender differences, obstacles and challenges in utility operations --e.g in issues of billings  and disconnections, water quality and customer service. The third key change area assists utilities to respond to aspects of institutional strengthening for gender mainstreaming in issues of capacity building as well as corporate goals and statutes, human resource policies and monitoring and evaluation on access and benefits. The final Toolkit is targeted for launch in March 2012.

 As a way forward, utilities will institute gender mainstreaming systems to incorporate performance indicators to show what actions are gender-sensitive, as well as the impacts of development, operational and institutional activities on women, men and youth.

Measurable and qualitative outputs will be developed. The utilities will continue to work with collaborative agencies to support articulation of gender issues at the grassroots level. Women will be supported to undertake technical work and obtain training at the Kenya Water Institute.

There is however evidence of changing roles of men and women as seen in the implementation of the Kazi Kwa Vijana(KKV) program, where some of

the utilities recorded equal participation of men and women in the digging of trenches and laying of water pipes. An example of this was the Githunguri Water and Sanitation Company which hired 46 men and 46 women in the KKV program. At the Karemenu Water Company, another water utility, 8 women were recruited and trained to work as meter readers, an activity that was previously done by men only. At the Limuru Water Company the community was involved in the designing and implementation of a community water kiosk, which meant that their needs were taken into account and they therefore owned the project from inception. Community projects in the informal settlements are now taking seriously the issue of women participation in leadership.

In five of the ablution blocks constructed by AWSB in Nairobi’s informal settlements with support from AFD, executive and business management committees comprise of two women and three men each. This shows that women are taking on roles which were previously being done by men and this has given them a voice in the management of the community projects.

Acronyms & Abbreviations

WSBs  - Water Services Boards

WSPs  - Water Services Providers

AWSB  - Athi Water Services Board

MWI  - Ministry of Water and Irrigation

WASREB  - Water Services Regulatory Board

AFD  - L’Agence Française de Développement

KKV  - Kazi Kwa Vijana

Rose Nyaga (Mrs) is the Chief Finance Manager  with the Athi

Water Services Board, Nairobi Kenya.




Current Issue: Africa Water & Sanitation & Hygiene March-April 2017 Vol.12 No.2