Seven ways that water, sanitation and hygiene enhances women's economic empowerment – policy brief

Woman smiles inside of a reverse osmosis water plant, alongside another woman. Both women are members of the committee who manage the plant.
Image: WaterAid/Farzana Hossen

Access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) paves the way for better economic opportunities for women and their control over the benefits of these opportunities. This policy brief explores the links between WASH and women’s economic empowerment, and highlights seven ways that investment in WASH can give women power over their lives.

Significant evidence and decades of experience have shown that women and girls are disproportionately affected when communities don't have access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, and climate change is exacerbating these challenges. For example, inadequate access to WASH is associated with increased health risks for women and greater exposure to different forms of violence.

Moreover, women and girls bear the brunt of inadequate water and sanitation services, and women’s unpaid work bridges the gaps in services and systems at household, workplace, school and health centre levels. In fact, women and girls are responsible for collecting water in seven out of ten households without water on the premises. 

Figure outlining the impacts of inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene on women's economic empowerment
Figure 1. The impacts of inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene on women's economic empowerment.

This policy brief highlights the ways that investment in and access to WASH can contribute to increased economic opportunities for women, including:  

  • Reducing women's unpaid care work, and unlocking employment and income-generating opportunities.
  • Improving girls’ access to primary and secondary education, which is crucial for their future independence and economic development.
  • Improving women’s health and enhancing their productivity and participation in the labour force.
  • Reducing violence against women and girls.
  • Raising opportunities to challenge gender norms.
  • Encouraging women’s participation in water and sanitation governance, which is critical for women’s economic empowerment.
  • Creating opportunities for employment and income-generating activities in the water and sanitation sector.

This report is intended for development partners, donors and governments, and anyone interested in understanding the links between WASH and women's economic empowerment. 

It is based on a study conducted for WaterAid by Piedade Coruche and Naomi Cassirer, with the addition of WaterAid’s own experience and resources.

Top image: Gita Roy, leader of Golap Dol, with another member, inside of the Maricchap Reverse Osmosis Water Plant at Tengrakhali village, Kadakati union parishad, Assasuni Upazila of Satkhira District, Khulna Division, Bangladesh, June 2022.