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An analysis of gender inclusion in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects: Intention vs reality


Motivation: Gender equality is inherently bound with Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) provision, access, and usage. Gender shapes experiences of projects and services, from participation in design, to ensuring access to appropriate facilities. Many writers call for active attention to gender throughout the project cycle, but there is little evidence of the extent to which this happens in practice.

Purpose: The article examines the extent to which evaluations of WASH implementation identify good gender‐inclusive practices. It explores the reasons for failings, and suggests ways gender equality could be more actively considered and effected in WASH programming.

Methods and approach: Textual analysis was undertaken on World Bank and UNICEF project evaluation documents to identify how gendered elements were addressed. Practices were then categorized according to a Gender Sensitivity Framework, rating these on a sliding scale measure from “gender insensitive” to “transformative.” The perceived barriers to gendered programming were subsequently triangulated using a mixed‐methods survey of WASH practitioners which used self‐identified challenges to assess consensus moderation to triangulate perceived barriers to gendered programming.

Findings: Lack of clarity in conceptualizing gender results in poorly defined targets that are often insufficiently context‐specific. Consequently, project objectives are either reductionist, limiting progress on “gender” to easily quantifiable measures that fail to capture the varied lived realities of gendered experiences, or comprise vague qualitative statements that cannot be accurately assessed, rendering gender inclusion unaddressed.

Policy implications: Gender is a social construct which is shaped by culture. Context‐specific understanding would support more nuanced gender‐inclusion objectives that could be monitored while also correlating to people's lived realities. Regular evaluation of gender guidance would ensure organizations’ understanding and conceptualization of gender reflects the fluidity of society. Policy and practice interventions which guarantee the active involvement of multiple stakeholders and diverse voices would ensure that implementation is effective and evaluation is more accurate.

More information

Journal Article
Robinson HJ
Barrington D
Evans B
Hutchings P
Narayanaswamy L

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