Inclusion in water: breaking down barriers

In many countries, women walk over six kilometers to collect water. Between 2006 anddiversity_and_inclusion_in_water_utilities 2012 in Niger, women traveled an hour, on average, to fetch water. Worldwide, 4.5 billion people lack access to safely managed sanitation services and 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water services.


Yet even these large numbers and stunning statistics cannot fully reflect the reality for pockets of societies which bear the brunt of inaccessibility. Marginalized groups and low-income communities often lack basic water and sanitation to a staggering degree – a  recent World Bank study found that in Guatemala only 33 percent of the indigenous population have access to sanitation, compared to 77% of the non-indigenous population.

So, what does this mean for the water sector? Visibly, it is the case that water remains largely unsafe and inaccessible. Less visibly, it may also be the case that marginalized individuals and groups do not have voice or agency when it comes to managing water. As people are excluded based on facets of their identity – such as ethnicity, social status, gender, sexual orientation, or disability status – their obstacles to safe and accessible water remain unchanged and overlooked. With the previous numbers in mind, these cases make it all too clear that women and other marginalized groups are absent from decision-making roles. They reveal that water and sanitation all too often become conduits of exclusion and disparity.  It is time for the water sector to fully recognize and scrutinize the overlap between inclusion and water.

Social inclusion can involve one or a combination of factors that exclude people from markets and services. It is the path to ensuring that marginalized groups are given a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, inclusion is an important component of the work of the World Bank’s Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership (GWSP). The GWSP aims to deepen social inclusion in water through knowledge generation and curation, country engagements, learning, and stronger partnerships. Moving into its second year, GWSP has supported a number of initiatives and projects to help advance the inclusion agenda:

Knowledge for Inclusion in Water
In terms of knowledge generation and curation, the World Bank report “Rising Tide: A New Look at Water and Gender” reviews a vast body of literature to show how water often reflects, and even reinforces, gender inequality. Notably, the report demonstrates that gender inequality does not always show up where one might expect. The purpose of the report is multifold – it provides policymakers and practitioners with a new framework for thinking about the intersections between water and gender; it helps those who want to advance social inclusion in water; it makes the case for closing gender gaps; and it provides actionable insights to help lift those who are left behind or left out. The World Bank also supports a number of engagements related to menstrual hygiene management.

Diversity and Inclusion in Water Utilities
Women are highly underrepresented in water utilities and even when present, their progression through the organization is slow, with few women in leadership and decision-making positions.  Indeed, it is symptomatic of a larger issue of women in science, technology, engineering and math jobs.  With support from GWSP, the World Bank has already made progress in its own lending operations.  The Baghdad Water Supply and Sewerage Improvement Project in Iraq and the Lilongwe Water and Sanitation Project in Malawi, are examples of projects that have taken significant steps to close gender gaps in women’s representation in the utilities, including through increasing female participation in decision-making roles. These developments precede the launch of a program on Diversity and Inclusion in Water Utilities, planned for late 2018.

Indonesia: Disability Inclusion in Water
Disability inclusion presents an important development opportunity – as well as a challenge. To address it, the World Bank has developed a guidance note to improve the lives of persons with disabilities by giving them equal access to the benefits of the Water sector operations. In Indonesia, the National Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project aims to improve access to school sanitation and public facilities for children with disabilities. Through a number of strategic measures – such as constructing handrails and ramps – the project is championing inclusivity in the water space. In addition, the project embraces community participation and citizen engagement by involving disabled community members in project design and implementation, as described in this blog post.

In short, it is simply not possible to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals without enhancing efforts for inclusion in water. The GWSP will continue its work to break down barriers to an inclusive water world through driving debates, on-the-ground project implementation, and knowledge leadership. To learn more about what we do on inclusion, I invite you to listen to this podcast, and to share your thoughts with us on Twitter, with #inclusivewater. A water secure world for all may present a multifaceted challenge, but a world where this fundamental resource is safe and accessible to all, even marginalized peoples, is within our grasp.


The World Bank with GWSP and other partners will be sharing examples such as this in the following sessions at World Water Week:

  • One billion left behind: Making global water efforts disability inclusive – Wednesday 29 August | 16.00-17.30 | Room: FH 300
  • Diversity and Inclusion in Water Utilities – Thursday 30 August | 11.00-12.30 | Room: NL Music Hall

You can also vist the World Bank exhibition at Booth 3 to learn more about our work on inclusion and join in the conversation using the hashtag #InclusiveWater

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