Women as WASH Leaders: Achieving Equitable Access to WASH Services in Ghana

Susana, from the Ashanti region of Ghana, is one of five women on the 13-member management committee responsible for oversight of her community’s WASH system, built with support from WSUP. The USAID WALIS GESI grant will support leaders like Susana at all levels of the Ghanaian WASH sector. Photo credit: WSUP

Research has shown that the burden of water collection disproportionately affects women and children. Consequently, they also benefit the most from improved water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services, as demonstrated in the Water and Development Alliance  and Ipsos’ Ripple Effect Study, which shows that improved WASH services also improve safety, income generation, and health, and empower women through time savings, leadership and educational opportunities, and shifting gender roles.  

And women are not the only ones who benefit from improved WASH access. A significant body of evidence shows that women’s involvement in WASH–related decision-making improves outcomes for all. For example, a study of water user committees in Vanuatu found that committees with a woman in a key position met more frequently, had more regular revenue collection, and were more likely to be functional. Additionally, surveys from water utilities show increased female employment improves overall customer satisfaction

With respect to WASH decision-making at higher policy levels, fewer data are available about the impact of women’s involvement, likely because women account for just 12 percent of environmental-sector ministers worldwide and make up only about 18 percent of the workforce in water and sanitation utilities. However, it has been recognized that women must be involved in decision-making to ensure long-term, sustainable development or else the specific experiences of women will never be fully captured. 

Building off this evidence, USAID’s Water for Africa through Leadership and Institutional Support (WALIS) is working to bolster gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) in the WASH sector with the newly awarded grant, “Strengthening the Role of Women in WASH Leadership and Decision-Making in Ghana.” Under this grant, WALIS is working with Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) to support the organizational development of a women’s professional network (WiWASH) and work with two utility partners to develop gender-sensitive policies and procedures and provide training for staff. 

A needs assessment will be carried out for WiWASH to develop an organizational strategy that will increase the national profile and membership of the organization and establish a mentorship program to get more girls into WASH. In addition, the grant will develop staff trainings and gender policies with the Ghana Water Company Limited’s (GWCL) Low-Income Consumer Support Unit (LICSU) and the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) to help foster institutional change. GWCL LICSU is responsible for helping to provide water to the poorest residents in Ghana’s urban areas, while CWSA oversees water supply and sanitation in the smaller towns and rural areas of the country. 

This grant ties directly to WALIS’s work with the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources in Ghana where WALIS is working to improve WASH evidence-based decision-making. Through a baseline report completed under WALIS, the ministry’s sector information system will have gender disaggregated WASH data available for both decision-makers and the public, including indicators on: WASH access at the household level, time spent collecting water, and school WASH access. 

Through evidence-based decision-making and now the GESI grant, WALIS is working at the local, institutional, and national levels in Ghana to promote gender equality and social inclusion in the WASH sector. At the local level, WiWASH members will be sharing best practices for integrating GESI into WASH with local communities. At the institutional level, the work with GLWC’s LISCU and CWSA will pave the way for recruiting more female employees at all levels. Finally, decision-makers at the national level will be able to use the data from the ministry’s information system to quantify the gendered disparities in WASH access and better target resources. Using both a bottom-up and top-down approach, WALIS hopes to facilitate long-term, sustainable change in the Ghana WASH sector.

By Katie Connolly, Program Coordinator, and Alayne Potter, Operations Manager, for WALIS