Recognizing Women as a Driving Force in Pakistan's Rural Water Sector

November 24, 2012

In rural communities, women have long carried the water, as well as shouldered the burden of public silence on a resource issue that dominates their time and, in some places, jeopardizes their personal safety. Increasingly, however, women are making their voices heard on water issues—and their communities are benefitting mightily.

Results from case studies in Pakistan’s Punjab region show that women’s participation in Rural Water Sector (RWS) programs significantly improved the community’s access to clean drinking water, augmented school enrollment, and reduced rampant epidemics (publication pending -- Women in Water: The Contribution of Women in Sustaining Rural Water Supply Schemes in Rehmatabad, Ather and Yazman, Punjab, Pakistan). Further, with the elimination of water collection time, women were able to take advantage of microcredit initiatives and productive ventures to expand their economic opportunities.

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The Water Blog - “Women in Water” in Pakistan Shows the Way

These results were possible because women served as active leaders, organizers, and change managers in their homes and communities. To acknowledge and support women in these roles, the Water and Sanitation Program has launched the Women in Water Initiative (WiWi), a long-term program emphasizing women’s role as change agents in Pakistan’s RWS.

WiWi will focus on four key issues:

  • Creating an enabling environment through policy reforms. WiWi will work with provincial line departments, policy makers, development partners, and rural women to identify policy actions for provincial government departments aimed at strengthening and institutionalizing women’s role in the public domain and RWS.
  • Documenting best practices. Identifying, recognizing, and acknowledging women champions/entrepreneurs and developing case studies to document women’s role in water management, the impact of gender mainstreaming, and the role of community development initiatives in RWS. These case studies will serve as role models and be widely disseminated.
  • Developing capacity. A formal, strategically designed program will deliver mandatory capacity-building training on women’s empowerment to the staff of line departments involved in RWS social mobilization. The program will also target rural women in an effort to understand the constraints of women serving in leadership or decision-making capacities in the planning, management, and implementation of RWS activities, as well as to build women’s capacities to address these constraints and emerge as “water entrepreneurs.”
  • Organizing national/provincial knowledge events. WiWi will conduct workshops at the local, provincial, and national levels to provide a platform to share experiences with peer-to-peer benchmarking practices, knowledge transfer, and feeding into subsequent policy dialogues. At these events, rural women will be encouraged to share experiences to facilitate their transformation into entrepreneurs.

Access to clean drinking water is a universal human right, and it determines everything from the dynamics of sociocultural relations to economic opportunities, education, health, and environmental protection. Mainstreaming gender through community development activities has proven effective in addressing water issues. What we need now are policies to equip and empower women to participate in managing their community’s drinking water.

WiWi’s support will help further this aim by using policy reforms to create an enabling environment for women’s roles in the short to medium term, and developing women entrepreneurs in RWS in the long term.