Business Case: Water

More than half of the world’s urban population lacks onsite sanitation facilities, and many can’t readily access clean drinking water. Women often bear the brunt of these shortfalls. Involving women in water and sanitation service design, tariff structures, and the workforce can improve service provision, safety, and cost recovery, all necessary to generating revenues needed to expand service infrastructure into underserved areas.
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Water for All

The Gender in The Urban Water and Sanitation Sector Business Case outlines actions water and sanitation service providers and multilateral financial institutions can take to improve the involvement of women.

Eliminating Barriers to Service—and Public Life


A more gender-diverse workforce improves operational effectiveness

Increased representation of women in water service delivery improves women’s access as consumers.

Improving access to water and sanitation for low-income urban households has a multiplier effect on community wellbeing and social and economic progress

This is especially true for the women who serve as primary caregivers

Improving how projects target consumers creates opportunities for expansion.

Understanding different roles and priorities among consumers, community members, employees, and entrepreneurs results in better usage, cost recovery, operations, and management for service providers.

Constructing water and sanitation facilities improves safety and reduces gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH).

Facilities should be planned with the input of the individuals who will use them and require proper oversight to ensure safety during projects.

Strategies to address gender gaps

Water and sanitation providers should increase the role of women in service design, implementation, and outreach.
Improve how projects target consumers and beneficiaries.
Focus on safety and reducing GBVH.
Increase the representation of women in the water sector workforce.
For more information and resources, see:

Improve how projects target consumers and beneficiaries.
Focus on safety and reducing GBVH.
Increase the representation of women in the water sector workforce.
Fast Facts

Including women is the key to expanding infrastructure and revenue.

Poor sanitation affects health, productivity, and the environment in lower middle-income countries, costing an estimated $260 billion annually.

Source: World Bank

A World Bank study of 64 water and sanitation service providers in 28 countries around the world found that an average of only 18% of their workers are women. While 23% of engineers and managers in the utilities were female, 32% of the utilities studied had no female engineers and 12% had no female managers.

Source: World Bank

A World Bank study of water and sanitation subsidies in ten low- and middle-income countries found that 56% of subsidies went to the richest 20% of people, but only 6% went to the poorest 20%.

Source: World Bank

Although women make up a small percentage of the water and sanitation workforce, one study found that their inclusion makes projects six to seven times as effective.

Source: WSUP

A multi-country World Bank study in southeast Asia estimated that if employees skipped one day of work per month during their menstrual period due to the lack of proper sanitation facilities, the Philippines and Vietnam would suffer from 1.5 to 13.8 million workday absences respectively, causing an economic loss of $1.28 to $13 million per year.

Source: World Bank

23 countries
23 countries still have explicit discriminatory restrictions affecting women’s employment in the water sector.

Source: World Bank

1 in 4
In a Plan International survey of 7,000 youth across four regions of the world, one in four girls said they never feel comfortable using school latrines. Another study in India found that one quarter of girls skipped school during menstruation.

Source: Anna Maria van Eijk et all

72.2M Hours
A study of women in Brazil found that universal access to sanitation could recuperate 72.2 million hours of Brazilian women’s time annually, providing opportunities for income-earning activities.

Source: BRK Ambiental and Instituto Trata Brasil

30 hours
In some municipalities of Mexico City, women dedicate up to 30 hours weekly to water management.

Source: Ciudad de Mexico

Between 2009 and 2018, IFC invested and mobilized over US $2 billion across 55 projects in the global water and sanitation sector.

Source: IFC

Low-income households are often forced to spend up to 15 times more on water from unreliable, private sources, exacerbating poverty and inequality, and often increasing the time-burden for women who make up a disproportionate share of the urban poor.

Source: City Taps

Water Credits as Microfinance
The US-based NGO’s WaterCredit Initiative is the first to apply microfinance tools for the water and sanitation sector, recognizing that millions of people, if given the chance, would prefer to finance long-term solutions instead of struggling day-to-day to find water. It identifies regions in need of access to water and sanitation, develops partnerships to provide affordable financing in the form of water and sanitation loans, and provides capacity-building grants and technical assistance to create, pilot, and scale water and sanitation financing around the world. While the initiative isn’t only for women, women are 87% of its borrowers and have a 99% repayment rate. They use the program to obtain water connections and toilets in their homes, in turn saving them and their families money as well as time that can then be used for income-generating activities, disrupting the cycle of poverty. In its more than 15 years, the WaterCredit Initiative has helped over 30 million people in 13 countries gain access to safe water and sanitation.
Smart Water Meters
The mobile billing intermediary CityTaps developed the world’s first smart prepaid water meter and billing software to facilitate a pay-as-you-go model for water service that adapts to the needs—and sometimes irregular incomes—of lower-income neighborhoods. In turn, this model helps utilities become financially independent and able to invest in water infrastructure for poor urban residents. Households in CityTaps’ first pilot in Niamey, Niger reported 94% savings in their water budgets, freeing resources for other purchases. Ninety percent of women and girls reported time savings, as they used to spend hours waiting for water delivery, in line at a tapstand, or hauling water back to their homes. The pilot was conducted in partnership with Société d’Exploitation des Eaux du Niger (SEEN), a local subsidiary of Veolia, a French transnational energy, water, and waste management company, and was later expanded in partnership with SEEN and telecommunications company Orange Niger. Both companies reported an increase in their customer base as a result.
Sanitation for Education
Sanergy is a social enterprise that has developed an affordable alternative to sewers in urban slums in Nairobi, Kenya’s, where waste is often illegally dumped. Its franchised Fresh Life Toilets, which were developed in partnership with Oxfam and include a handwashing station with soap, water, and disposal for feminine hygeine products, are owner operated. Owners remove the waste by handcarts and trucks, and the waste is then converted into products such as organic fertilizer and animal feed for Kenyan farmers. After the installation of Sanergy’s Fresh Life Toilets in schools across Mukuru kwa Reuben, one of Nairobi’s biggest slums, surveys reported a 20% average increase in school enrollment and attendance, as well as happier teachers and parents. Another study of the program found that “pupils in schools with cleaner toilets were half as likely to be absent than pupils in schools with dirtier toilets.” Girls who have begun menstruation appreciated the toilets for the privacy and safety they offer.
Reducing Harassment in the Solomon Islands
In the Solomon Islands, a country with high rates of gender-based violence and harassment and without sufficient legal protections against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, IFC and the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) implemented IFC’s Respectful Workplaces Program in 2017 to promote business competitiveness and women’s economic empowerment in the private sector. The Solomon Islands Water Authority (SIWA), a state-owned urban water and sanitation utility, joined the program after recognizing the business benefits of fostering a more respectful workplace. SIWA began its involvement with an assessment phase supported by IFC to help it understand men’s and women’s roles within the company, staff perceptions and experiences, policies and procedures, and any mechanisms currently in place that address bullying, harassment, and employee wellbeing. As a result of the findings, SIWA made changes including the adaption of anti-harassment and domestic violence policies, the training of 11 managers and 81 staff members, the creation of a site-specific domestic violence policy, and the training of a domestic violence contact team.