Water Programming Advances Gender Equity in West Africa’s Sahel Region

Community members celebrate the installation of a solar-powered water pumping system in the most drought-affected region of Somalia, Gedo. Photo credit: Abdullahi Malin, Tayo Solar Solutions

Millions of people lack access to clean and safe water, especially in developing regions like the West Africa Sahel. The situation is even more dire for women and girls, who often bear the burden of fetching water, sometimes walking miles a day to bring fresh water back to their families. 

Climate change compounds the issue. The West Africa Sahel is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change because it is home to communities who are highly dependent on agriculture and natural resources. USAID implements gender-responsive water programs to improve water security and climate resilience in the region while also advancing gender equity goals. These programs have two main objectives: 1) improve access to clean and safe water, and 2) address gender disparities in water access. However, these programs approach the above objectives in different ways. 

The USAID West Africa Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) program involved women and girls in the design and implementation of water projects. This approach recognizes that women and girls, who are often the primary users of water resources, should be included in water-related decision-making. USAID’s West Africa WASH program supported the construction of water infrastructure in the Sahel region, resulting in improved access to clean water for millions of people and reducing the amount of time and energy required to collect water. This enabled women and girls to spend more time on education and income-generating activities, leading to greater economic empowerment.

USAID’s gender-responsive water programming in the Sahel region also has provided access to training and resources for women while making significant progress in improving access to water, such as through the TerreEauVie activity in Burkina Faso. When women are trained in water management, including maintenance and repair of water infrastructure, they are empowered to take on leadership roles in the water sector.

But limited technical knowledge isn’t the only challenge to women’s leadership in water. In addition to providing access to water and training women in water management, USAID’s gender-responsive water programming addresses social and cultural barriers that limit women’s access to water. In many communities in the West Africa Sahel, fetching water is considered women's work, and women are often not allowed to participate in water management decision-making processes. USAID’s water programs challenge these norms by promoting gender equality and advocating for women’s inclusion in water management.

Despite the progress towards gender equity made in part due to USAID’s gender-responsive water programming, challenges still exist. Currently, the West Africa Sahel is experiencing the impacts of climate change, leading to increased water scarcity, which affects women and girls more severely than men and boys. In addition, ongoing conflicts in the region pose a significant challenge to USAID’s programming, as insecurity hinders access to water and increases women and girls’ vulnerability to gender-based violence. 

Still, USAID’s gender-responsive water security and climate programs in the West Africa Sahel have had significant impacts on gender equality throughout the region. These programs have provided women with greater access to resources, training, and decision-making opportunities, which in turn has led to economic and social empowerment within their communities. USAID’s continued support for gender-responsive programming will be crucial in achieving gender equity in the Sahel region.


About The Author

Ariel Schindler

Communications and Knowledge Management Specialist on USAID’s Sharing Environment and Energy Knowledge (SEEK) contract, supporting Biodiversity and Climate. Ariel has a Master’s in Strategic Communications, with a focus on social impact and advocacy, from American University, and a BA in Environmental Science and Policy from Eckerd College.


This blog was originally published on ClimateLinks.

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