In the context of water, gender is not just a women’s issue. As women are the primary users and managers of water, particularly in rural areas, it is essential that projects aimed at improving access to water, and related infrastructure, services and value chains, take into account their needs. Recently, CRIDF hosted an online workshop to help the USAID Resilient Waters Program operationalise its commitments to gender inclusion.
The Handbook on Mainstreaming Gender in the Water Sector produced by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) is a pioneering document designed to help water sector practitioners ensure that their projects are planned and implemented with the participation of women. CRIDF’s Gender and Social Inclusion (GESI) Toolkit for Project Preparation draws on this resource and other documents, as well as its extensive field experience in Southern Africa, to provide a practical resource that integrates gender into all stages of a project cycle, particularly the crucial planning stage.
So that stakeholders in the region’s water sector can benefit from the Toolkit and the SADC resources upon which it is based, the CRIDF team has been facilitating workshops to discuss the need for gender-aware approaches, brainstorm how to put these approaches into practice, and develop ways in which they can be tailored to particular stakeholders. The challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to such exchanges are considerable, but the success of the online workshop hosted by CRIDF demonstrates that much can be achieved with a few tweaks to the traditional format.
The case for GESI
From May 4–5, 2020, CRIDF hosted a GESI Project Preparation webinar for the USAID Resilient Waters Program, which shares with CRIDF the objective to build more resilient and water-secure southern African communities and ecosystems. To ensure active engagement and mainstreaming of GESI in its activities, the USAID Resilient Waters Program hosts quarterly training workshops for its leadership, technical and operations staff, key beneficiaries (including River Basin Organisations and Transfrontier Conservation Areas), grantees and partners. A pre-workshop evaluation helped CRIDF facilitators finetune content to the needs of participants. A clear need for such workshops was therefore established in advance, in line with the USAID Resilient Waters Program’s own objective to achieve sustainable resilience with inclusive growth.
Understanding and applying the GESI Toolkit
Following an orientation to the 50 participants on how to optimise use of the Zoom platform, the facilitators introduced the context for GESI, key terminology and the challenges for the water sector in Southern Africa, specific to the core objectives of the USAID Resilient Waters Program (transboundary water management, WASH, livelihoods and biodiversity). This was followed by a multimedia presentation on the GESI Toolkit. The final session of day 1 was set aside for group work, during which participants were split into groups (via Zoom’s ‘breakout rooms’) to discuss case studies for which they were to prepare GESI Action Plans. The case studies covered a range of scenarios from CRIDF and USAID Resilient Waters Program’s experience – water resources and livelihood improvement; border town urban water supply and sanitation; and enhancing biodiversity and local livelihoods. Day 2 of the webinar was dedicated to discussing the results of the group work sessions, and reflecting on next steps with regards to using GESI tools in the activities of the USAID Resilient Waters Program.
Creating a gender-aware community of practice
The feedback on the webinar was overwhelmingly positive. The relatively new format, though challenging for such a large group, allowed CRIDF to contribute to SADC’s growing community of gender-aware water sector practitioners during a period in which movements in the field are necessarily restricted. Indeed, the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 have given practitioners the opportunity to reflect on their methodologies.
CRIDF’s proactiveness in adopting online technologies adapted to working from home (such as the Zoom application and, for internal purposes, the web-based, collaborative SharePoint platform) demonstrates its commitment to continue to engage with partners amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, in reaching beyond its own project stakeholders to the USAID Resilient Waters Program, and transferring the experience and tools of a UK aid-supported programme to a USAID-supported one, CRIDF is supporting SADC’s agenda on gender mainstreaming – a development strategy closely associated with project effectiveness.