Catalyzing Women’s Leadership to Advance WASH Adoption

Gap Inc. and USAID led a panel discussion on August 28, 2019, at World Water Week with implementing partners from the Women + Water Alliance (W+W Alliance)—WaterAid,, CARE India, and the Institute for Sustainable Communities. Photo credit: Gap Inc.

In late August, the Women + Water Alliance came together at the Stockholm International Water Institute’s World Water Week to emphasize the important role women play in helping alleviate the global water crisis.  

Their session titled, “Catalyzing Women’s Leadership to Advance WASH Adoption” shared the context of how women as agents of change can help promote water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in communities touched by the apparel industry. 

As a global fashion company with 3,100+ stores, Gap Inc. sources from more than 40 countries—many of which are also water stressed—where on average 80 percent of garment workers are women. These women may face the disproportionate burden of their local water and sanitation access challenges. Women also make up the workforce across Gap Inc.’s value chain, including playing a big role in cotton production. At Gap Inc., we work to design products that use less water and prioritize women’s leadership to access and deliver on WASH needs. The later is largely achieved through leveraging Gap Inc.’s P.A.C.E. program, which brings women together in a comprehensive, six-month, free, life-skills training program where they learn critical skills such as communication, problem-solving, financial literacy, and critical WASH behaviors (potable water management, handwashing, and more). “By building the capacity of women’s skills in these areas, women will be better equipped to voice their needs for WASH solutions,” said W+W Alliance Chief of Party Lisa Hook. This can be achieved at home and through their collective advocacy efforts at the local government level. 

The W+W Alliance is putting this approach into practice in India where Gap Inc. and USAID aim to reach 200,000 women through the P.A.C.E. program to equip them with the knowledge and access needed to improve their health and well-being. Implemented in two key states touched by the apparel industry (Maharashtra, a key cotton growing state) and Madhya Pradesh (a textile industry hub), the W+W Alliance is working in areas that need the most support. According to baseline report findings completed in Madhya Pradesh, while 70 percent of surveyed communities have access to water, a majority must travel to collect this water; seasonal scarcity also has a tremendous impact. Monitoring and Evaluation Leader of the W+W Alliance Saswat Rath (Gap Inc.) explained, “According to the baseline study, only 6.8 percent of the surveyed women store water correctly, which has huge health impacts on them.”  

“India is currently facing its largest water crisis. This is very hard but potentially very opportunistic time for us to see real change,” said VK Madhavan, CEO of WaterAid India. “With the new ministry, we have the ability to leverage partnerships to advocate for systems change at the national level and through collaborations with stakeholders in the finance sectors, NGO, civil society, and beyond.” WaterAid, a new partner to the W+W Alliance, will work with local governments and community stakeholders to build long-term solutions for their community’s water needs (such as rainwater harvesting), aiming to reach women and their families.  

In addition, the W+W Alliance is working to activate women leaders through CARE’s implementation of the P.A.C.E. program, providing women with access to affordable WASH financing through, building the capabilities of local governance and stakeholder institutions to develop viable water security plans, and empowering women leaders to test water quality and educate community members (including men) about the importance of addressing such issues. will also implement best practices in water stewardship in the watersheds where these communities lie in recognition of the impact the industry has on the health of local water resources.  

Working collectively and leveraging each other’s unique strengths was one of the major takeaways for audience members at the session. “We have to be looking at partnerships like this one [W + W Alliance]—where a lot of different expertise and relationship at the community, local, state and national levels can all be brought together under the same objective to achieve maximum impact,” said Lisa Schechtman, senior policy advisor with USAID’s Water Office, at the close of the session. This results “in resilient households and resilient  communities.”

To date the W + W Alliance has reached 40,000 women in rural India through the P.A.C.E. program, mobilized $2.2 million in WASH financing, and distributed 10,000-plus affordable loans for women to address their WASH needs. To learn more about the work, follow along on our journey on and read about the W+W Alliance in The Times of India.

By Una Hrnjak-Hadziahmetovic, Deputy Chief of Party Women + Water Alliance & Senior Manager, Gap Inc. Global Sustainability 

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