Gender Equality and Female Empowerment in WASH: USAID Water and Development Technical Series


This brief is part of USAID 's Water and Development Technical Series, which provides guidance on important topics for developing and implementing water and sanitation activities in support of the U.S. Government Global Water Strategy and USAID’s plan under the strategy.

Programs that support women’s access to sustainable water and sanitation services enable them to enjoy better health, pursue their education, participate more fully in the economy, build their social capital, increase their dignity, and reach their full potential. When women and girls are empowered, they build a better world––one with greater economic opportunities and stability for all. Recent studies have shown that programs that include women in the early stages of development tend to have a long-term sustainable impact on water and sanitation service delivery.1 This is indicative of the potential for women to be more than beneficiaries of water and sanitation programming; they are also change agents, leaders, and professional members of the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) workforce.

This technical brief is a tool to support Mission WASH leads, gender advisors, and implementing partners in designing strategies, projects, and activities that both improve women’s and girls’ empowerment and achieve the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) water security, sanitation, and hygiene development objectives.


  • Activities should account for women and girls as more than beneficiaries of water and sanitation services. They are consumers, customers, influencers, professionals, household deciders, and keepers of traditional knowledge and solutions. Water and sanitation activities that empower women to be change agents have multiple benefits.
  • By working to change discriminatory legal, social, and cultural norms, activities can enable women and girls to become water and sanitation change agents. By reducing barriers to women and girls receiving water and sanitation training, jobs, promotions, and leadership opportunities in their households, communities, and workplaces, they can become key actors in making water and sanitation services more sustainable. This requires both community-level and policy change.
  • Participatory approaches are key. Gender-related barriers to WASH vary widely by geographic, religious, legal, and cultural context, and whether multiple layers of vulnerability––such as disability or extreme poverty––exist. Programs must take the time to understand the preferences, needs, and experiences of the women and girls and the specific barriers they face. The economic, health, educational, environmental, and social benefits to women’s empowerment in the water and sanitation sector must be a priority for all.

Technical Brief
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11 pages