Delivering inclusive, gender-sensitive water infrastructure

Delivering inclusive, gender-sensitive water infrastructure

On International Women’s Day we reflect on CRIDF’s approach to gender equality and our efforts to address gender and social inclusion through water infrastructure projects. The approach is delivering results across Southern Africa – not only for women and girls but for entire communities and the wider water sector.

The campaign theme for this year’s International Women’s Day – an equal world is an enabled world – reflects our own experience in Southern Africa’s water sector where gender inequity not only holds back women but impedes resilient, inclusive progress across entire communities and countries.

Although the challenges women face are diverse and differ from country to country, there are common themes. Women often have less of a say when it comes to decision making, for instance, even when they are the primary users and managers of water, and they routinely lack access to basic services, livelihood opportunities and natural and financial resources.

This situation is not helped by their dependence on unsuitable water infrastructure that is insufficiently adapted to their needs – an unfortunate consequence of women’s inability to voice their demands and influence the design of new constructions, facilities or technologies.

The CRIDF approach to gender equality

Our approach to addressing gender inequity is first recognising that gender equality is not only a women’s issue and is not only tied to women’s empowerment. While we acknowledge that women are often more disadvantaged than men, the challenges we observe are rarely one-dimensional.

We also cannot ignore the possibility, for example, that initiatives prioritising the needs of women may generate opposition, provoke male resentment, or worse, cause an increase in gender-based violence. At CRIDF we therefore try to consider the needs of all social groups – including individuals within gender groups and across decision making spheres – and acknowledge that community members are not equal.

We conduct stakeholder mapping exercises – with individuals, social groups, sub-groups and local organisations. This guides our approach to engaging different groups, through the creation of platforms where everyone is comfortable articulating their voices. These include key informant interviews, focus group discussions and community consultations. We also conduct interactive mapping and visual groupwork: we ask community members to draw layouts of their settlements, indicating where they collect and use water and where and what hazards and vulnerabilities exist that affect their livelihoods.

To elicit honest responses we also consider where, how and who within our CRIDF team of experts should conduct the engagements: do they speak the local language, does it make a difference if they are male or female, does the physical space lend itself to privacy, or would visual props (like maps) enable easier communication?

Delivering support to development partners

Our approach and understanding of gender are reflected in the gender and social analyses we conduct as part of our project preparation cycles, as well as the gender strategy and action plans we develop with our partners. Through these efforts we contribute to communities of practice (CoP) at various scales across the region, consolidating and sharing best practices so that gender-sensitive water infrastructure can be strategically scaled-up where it is most needed in alignment with national and regional development agendas.

Through the CoPs we promote tools that help water and gender practitioners integrate gender considerations into their work. These include our Gender Equality Social Inclusion (GESI) Toolkit, a practical resource that provides guidance on how to integrate gender into all stages of a project cycle. It draws upon our team’s practical experience over the past six years and is informed by two guides produced by the Southern African Development Community (SADC): the SADC Handbook on Mainstreaming Gender in the Water Sector and the SADC Gender Mainstreaming Resource Kit.

Another aspect of the support CRIDF provides is capacity strengthening. Just this week, under the auspices of Zambia’s Water Ministry, we held a gender workshop in Lusaka, which explored the core aspects, use and applicability of the GESI Toolkit and other relevant resources, through participatory groupwork exercises using relatable case study examples. The workshop brought together a cross-sectoral range of government ministries (Water, Planning, Finance, Gender), commercial utilities, development partners (World Vision, WaterAid, GIZ, WSUP, Resilient Waters Program) and the media.

Achieving results across Southern Africa

The approach adopted by CRIDF and its development partners has generated positive impacts across Southern Africa. Examples include a dam rehabilitation design in Zambia which incorporated a bridge that enables children to cross the river during flooding and attend school on the other side; and water kiosks that are built away from major roads so the women who manage these kiosks do not have to worry about the safety of their children and have a private area at the back of the kiosk where they can rearrange their belongings, including water vats, infants and food.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day and reflect on the importance of gender equality, CRIDF is committed to building on these successes, working with our partners to ensure that more women are able to utilise gender-sensitive water infrastructure and build resilient, more productive lives.