The month of March marked both World Water Day 2019 and Women’s History Month in the United States. This was a time for USAID and Gap Inc.’s Women and Water Alliance (W+W Alliance) to reflect on progress made and the role that the private sector plays in supporting women as leaders in the water sector.
The W+W Alliance launched in 2017 to improve and sustain the health and well-being of women and communities touched by the apparel industry in India. To date, the W+W Alliance has enrolled more than 38,000 women through the Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. program to learn critical life skills, including training on safe water and sanitation and options for financing household water and sanitation improvements. The program currently reaches communities in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh states; CARE serves as the implementer. The W+W Alliance seeks to reach 200,000 women through the P.A.C.E. program by the end of 2021.
The W+W Alliance also catalyzed more than $1 million for communities with WASH needs via the innovative financing model developed by Water.org. Financing has been used to invest in retrofitted toilets, additional toilets, bathing facilities, water access, and water filters to ensure quality.
Protecting freshwater resources that underpin safe drinking water access is also a vital component of the W+W Alliance’s work in India. On this front, through the work of the Institute for Sustainable Communities, the W+W Alliance reviewed more than 100 global best practices for water stewardship and industry water and chemicals management to design five unique pilot opportunities to be tested within cotton communities and fabric mill settings to be used as examples for broader adoption in India.
To highlight these efforts, on March 21, USAID co-hosted the “Call to Action: Supporting Women through Water” event with the U.S. Department of State, Global Water Challenge, and the Aspen Institute. The event focused on water access to improve livelihoods, particularly for women.
W+W Alliance members spoke about the role of the private sector in addressing gender and water-linked issues and encouraged businesses of all sizes to evaluate how they can work together with other private sector players, governments, and civil society to help. The first step businesses can take is to look at their full value chain—from sourcing of their raw materials, to manufacturing, to selling their products in stores—to identify opportunities along the way to leverage their unique strengths for action around water and women’s advancement.
It’s also vital for businesses to partner with key stakeholders with technical expertise in the space such as how the W+W Alliance has brought together CARE, Water.org, and the Institute for Sustainable Communities for their unique strengths.
Kelly Alexander, WASH expert at W+W Alliance implementing partner CARE, spoke about the way organizations partner with the private sector, and highlighted the ongoing importance of working together to get feedback and listen to women in the communities where we work to inform and enhance our projects throughout the process. She shared, “Just as private sector businesses get ratings and reviews from customers: development projects need to see community members as customers and learn what we can do to serve them better."
For a recap of the March 21 event, read this blog from the U.S. Department of State’s DipNote blog.
Moving forward, the W+W Alliance will continue to build on its efforts to address water issues so that World Water Day is every day.
By Una Hrnjak-Hadziahmetovic, Gap Inc.(Deputy Chief of Party USAID & Gap Inc. Women + Water Alliance) and Ella Lazarte, USAID