A sit with Euphresia on Water and Diversity in its Leadership

This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network – we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series on rwsn.blog, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a blog post from a RWSN Thematic Lead, Euphresia Luseka, from Kenya

Photo 1: Female Wastewater operators servicing a client’s Johkasou wastewater treatment plant, Kenya, 2022

Photo 2: Euphresia Luseka

“In Diversity there is beauty and there is strength”

Maya Angelou

Diversity is the difference. People are the same and different by their ethnic, age, professional experience, religion, race, and gender.

Let’s agree that women’s contributions and leadership are central to providing solutions to water challenges. Consequently, the water sector needs a more diverse labour force to establish a more inclusive and equitable experience for all its practitioners. By highlighting the scale of issues facing female Water leaders, we can better understand their challenges, and galvanize action for progressive, systemic change while examining other robust potential and scalable solutions.

The current women’s underrepresentation in water sector leadership is a prominent concern. According to a World Bank publication on Women in Water Utilities, women are significantly underrepresented; less than 18% of the workforce sampled were women, one in three utilities sampled had no female engineers and 12% of utilities have no female managers. Referencing the analysis of the employment data from participating organizations in a FLUSH LLC publication that I co-authored, white males from High-Income Countries comprised over a third of all sanitation leadership positions. With regards to race, two-thirds of all sanitation leaders were white, with white leaders 8.7 times more likely to hold multiple positions across different organizations than Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).  BIPOC Women were the least represented group.

This affirms the importance of an intersectional perspective in advancing gender and racial equity in the water sector leadership.

Women and specifically BIPOC female water leaders are missing out on opportunities in the water sector that hold the promise of advancement of SDG6 targets and the rising economic security that comes with it.

Without diverse leadership, the water sector will continue to experience failure. 

Are there consequences for this?

Gender diversity in the Water sector is not only a pressing political, moral and social issue but also a critical economic challenge. There are consequences for not having women in water leadership, the financial consequences are significant.

The untapped and unmeasured contribution of women is enormous. Women make up half the world’s population but generate 37% of the global GDP, reflecting the fact that they have unequal access to labour markets, opportunities, and rights. A McKinsey & Co study found that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Companies in the bottom quartile in these dimensions are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns.

The business case for diversity also remains strong. Research shows  when women are well represented at the top, organizations are 50% more likely to outperform their peers. Undoubtedly, organisations in Water sector that embraced diversification in terms of gender and race are positioned to meaningfully outperform their more homogeneous counterparts.

Beyond that, compared to senior-level men, senior-level women have a vast and meaningful impact on an organization’s culture; they champion racial and gender diversity more. 

Unfortunately, given the high male dominance in the Water sector they are usually the “Onlys” – the only or one of the only women hence more resistance, sharper criticism especially on affirming their competence, more prejudice, and more experience to micro-aggressions.

If women leaders are not present in the workforce, women at all levels lose their most powerful champions.

Absolutely, diversity wins and here are some examples of what I mean.

Though many ambitious women in water desire to advance into leadership positions, very few have the managerial and Ally support to get and keep those positions. Though many employees perceive themselves as our Allies, they do not take enough action such as publicly advocating for racial or gender equality, publicly confronting discrimination, publicly mentoring and sponsoring them. Though women in water have the capacity to lead in the sector, there exist geographic mismatches between them and opportunities, we remain underrepresented and paid less. Though many organizations are hiring more women to entry-level positions numbers dwindle at management level, particularly for BIPOC women.

This obviously has a long-term impact on the talent pipeline; eventually, there are fewer women to hire, fewer to promote to senior managers and overall fewer women in the sector. If women continue encountering the sticky floor, a broken rung on the ladder to success, and a revolving door in entry-level jobs, we might never break the glass ceiling.

Women can never catch up with this status quo!

But why are we missing and losing women in water leadership?

We have come from so far as a sector but have moved very little on Gender parity at the workplace.

To give an illustration, the United Nations organized four outstanding world conferences for women: 1) at Mexico City in 1975; establishing the World Plan of Action and Declaration of Equality of Women and their Contribution to Development and Peace. 2) The Copenhagen conference in 1980, 3) the Nairobi Conference in my country Kenya, in 1985 4) in Beijing in 1995 which marked a significant turning point for the global agenda on gender equality with an outcome of a global policy document.

27 years later, still the water sector is investing in the same gender challenges emerging from gender norms that are stuck with us generation after generation. 

On the current trajectory, the World Economic Forum reckons if progress towards gender parity proceeds at the same pace, the global gender gap will close in 132 years. The Index concludes that “no country has reached the ‘last mile’ on gender equality” on more complex issues like gender-based violence, gender pay gaps, equal representation in powerful positions, gender budgeting and public services and climate change.

Women’s dual roles and time burden affect their economic productivity however inequalities in access to education impact their growth attributing to the high rates of poor women. Therefore, the woman in water at work and society starts at a disadvantaged position.

This affirms the supposition that instead of making transformation the goal in gender and water sector leadership, how about we make it a way of doing business?

Are women better leaders than men?

As demonstrated in Eagly (2007) study, women are manifesting leadership styles associated with effective performance. On the other hand, there appears to be widespread recognition that women often come in second to men in leadership competitions. Women are still suffering disadvantage in access to leadership positions as well as prejudice and resistance when they occupy these roles. It is more difficult for women than men to become leaders and to succeed in male-dominated leadership roles. This mix of apparent advantage and disadvantage that women leaders experience reflects the considerable progress towards gender equality that has occurred in both attitudes and behaviour, coupled with lack of complete attainment of this goal. Although prejudicial attitudes do not invariably produce discriminatory behaviour, such attitudes can limit women’s access to leadership roles and foster discriminatory evaluations when they occupy such roles.

It is time for Women to take up power, are they?

The 20th-century paradigm shift championed by UN towards gender equality has not ceased as affirmed by the profound changes taking place in diversity targets in the Water sector. The trends are clear that women are ascending towards greater power and authority. The presence of more women in water leadership positions is one of the clearest indicators of this transformation.

The central question of gender equality is a question of power, we continue to live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. Power is not given, power is taken; we have to push back against the resistance to change, as advised by António Guterres, Secretary General, United Nations.

Pato Kelesitse’s call has been heard Women in Water sector Leadership [DM1] [EL2] is no longer just talk, it is success! There are exemplary women to draw inspiration and strength from; Global Water Intelligence in 2020 released a list of water sector’s most powerful women that could be adopted for peer learning.

Photo 3: Water Utility Staff during a Non-Revenue Water management training, Kenya, 2022

How do we sustain the gains?

Focus and execution discipline not only makes a big difference, it is the only thing that can sustain change. It is noteworthy that placing a higher value on diversity and implementing targeted initiatives have not closed the representation gaps for women leaders in Water and especially BIPOC Women, with most outcomes remaining elusive despite scaling up of initiatives.

  • Useful data can resolve this; effective policies are informed best by evidence. We cannot change what we do not measure and we cannot measure what we do not know. Therefore, borrowing from President Biden’s approach upon issuing an executive order on advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities, I guide, assess institutional gender capacity to build a robust pipeline for women in water professionals at all levels of-management.
  • Inquire what actions can influence diverse representation in the water sector leadership towards an inclusive environment where women feel supported by peers and leaders.
  • Co-creation will be key in strategically prioritising interventions addressing necessary changes across the organisation, progress cannot be made in silos. Collaborative efforts galvanise collective action that will build trust across the organization. Focus should not take a gender-neutral approach; some interventions can specifically focus on men others women as a corrective measure to enhance leadership diversity. This shall move the process of change through equality to equity to justice.
    • Empowering and equipping management to not only develop technical and managerial skills but advance female leaders and mainly BIPOC could follow. Use influencers to drive change. Translate allyship into action across all levels. Maintain open communication and feedback channels. Reinforce and scale what works and re-envision what does not. Measure and celebrate progress towards diversity outcomes.

****

I thought I would support transforming the water sector instead it transformed me. This blog is dedicated to Leslie Gonzalez, Director of Project Delivery, Africa at DAI. I acknowledge the efforts of Portia Persley Division Chief, RFS/Center for Water Security, Sanitation and Hygiene at USAID, Heather Skilling, Principal Global Practice Specialist, WASH at DAI, and Dr. Leunita Sumba, at WIWAS. History will remember your efforts in advancing women in water, working with you is like working with the change you want to see in the water sector.

Photo credits: Euphresia Luseka

About the author:

Euphresia Luseka is a Water Governance Specialist and Co-Lead of RWSN Leave No-One Behind Theme. She is a seasoned Expert with experience in leadership, strategy development, partnerships and management in WASH sector nationally, regionally and internationally. She has specialised in WASH Public Policy, Business Development Support Strategies and Institutional Strengthening of urban and rural WASH Institutions. Euphresia has several publications and research work in her field.

Did you enjoy this blog? Would you like to share your perspective on the rural water sector or your story as a rural water professional? We are inviting all RWSN Members to contribute to this 30th anniversary blog series. The best blogs will be selected for publication. Please see the blog guidelines here and contact us (ruralwater[at]skat.ch) for more information. You are also welcome to support RWSN’s work through our online donation facility. Thank you for your support.


Putting equality, inclusion and rights at the centre of a COVID-19 water, sanitation and hygiene response

This is a guest blog by Priya Nath (RWSN Theme Leader) and Louisa Gosling (RWSN Chair). It is reposted from the WaterAid blog with thanks. The original post is available here.

The poorest and least powerful sections of all societies are likely to be worst affected in crises, but we can work to alleviate inequalities through our response. Priya Nath and Louisa Gosling highlight how our emergency response to the coronavirus pandemic can mitigate new and existing vulnerabilities among people affected.

Handwashing with soap is the first line of defence in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet inequalities abound in access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), services, and following the advice to wash your hands with soap regularly is not as easy for some as it may sound.

Years of experience and evidence show that income, economic context and landlessness; age, disability and health status; geographical location; and ethnicity, race, religion and gender all play huge roles in determining whether individuals, households and communities have appropriate, available, affordable and accessible WASH. At WaterAid, we have committed to tackling inequalities in all aspects of WASH access.

The way we approach the current extraordinary global health crisis can be no different. Tackling new and existing inequalities must be central to our emergency response to coronavirus. During the global COVID-19 pandemic, life-saving clean water for hygiene, safe sanitation and basic healthcare is more critical than ever. And delivering equitable, empowering WASH responses for all is fundamental.

In our support of COVID-19 responses through WASH we are both drawing on what we already know and learning new ways to reach the most marginalised and the most burdened.

What we already know about tackling inequalities in WASH and emergency contexts

1. Gender inequality is exacerbated in health emergencies and economic crises, so must be tackled in all response efforts

As schools close and families head into lockdown, domestic chores and caring responsibilities increase greatly. At the same time, increased calls for washing hands, as well as for cleaning and sanitising, multiply the need for water. Because of gender divisions of labour, it is women and girls who will have to collect this extra water, perform more labour and do more caring for people who become sick.

For the 29% of people who do not have water inside their home, the additional long journeys to water sources caused by increased demand for water will mean more chances of contact with others at waterpoints or kiosks. And for many it will mean spending more of their already scarce resources on buying water at an unaffordable cost.

Women queue up to collect water from the common water source in Anna Nagar Basti, Hyderabad, India.

WaterAid/ Ronny Sen
Women queue up to collect water from the common water source in Anna Nagar Basti, Hyderabad, India.

Meanwhile, an estimated 70% of the global health and social care workforce are women. As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, these frontline workers face increased pressure and exposure to the virus, often with little personal protective equipment. This in the context of two out of every five healthcare facilities globally lacking handwashing facilities, and 55% in least developed countries lacking basic water supplies.

Health crises also increase risks of violence and harassment of frontline health workers, particularly women nurses. Amid the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the World Health Organization documented attacks on more than 300 healthcare facilities in 2019, leaving six workers and patients dead and 70 wounded.

During times of enforced isolation and closure of many public facilities, women and girls’ ability to manage menstruation can be compromised in communities and households. Finding a clean and private space to change and wash while remaining indoors for much of the time with their family, and accessing menstrual materials and water, can be difficult.

Finally, isolation measures, the inability to access previous social support systems and increases in financial and other stresses are increasing the risks of violence against women everywhere (download report PDF). Although not directly connected to WASH, this has implications for women’s ability to access essential services, and must be factored into our response, to ensure people’s safety and security when accessing WASH and other services.

You can read more about the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in this article published in The Lancet.

2. Marginalised people become even more vulnerable during a crisis

People with chronic health issues, such as HIV, or other health conditions are dealing with increased fear of acquiring COVID-19, while often already experiencing social stigma and exclusion based on their health status. In an environment where misconceptions around HIV transmission or general discrimination might already prevent them from using communal WASH facilities, crises have the potential to exacerbate the situation, making handwashing and maintaining treatments even harder. Additionally they face the real risk of disruption to essential life-saving services, and concerns over whether they will be able to access treatment for COVID-19 on an equal basis to others.

More than a billion people globally live with disabilities, the rates higher in low-income countries and among those living in poverty or belonging to ethnic minorities. Once again, the health and social inequalities they already face are intensified in crises. For someone with a physical impairment, accessing clean water frequently can be a challenge because of distance, inaccessible infrastructure or reliance on others.

People with disabilities are often already isolated from the outside world, missing out on public health campaigns geared towards people who move around. And public health and information campaigns are rarely targeted to their specific requirements. Those who rely on a carer to help them with daily tasks face either the risk of added exposure to the virus through their carer, or an inability to get the help they need more than ever in challenging times.

Reuben J. Yankan, Director of the Disable Camp 17th Street Community, who is visually impaired, being helped down the steps from a public toilet by Timothy Kpeh, Executive Director for Peace, Education, Transparency, & Development in Sinkor, Monrovia, Liberia.

WaterAid/ Ahmed Jallanzo
Reuben J. Yankan, Director of the Disable Camp 17th Street Community, who is visually impaired, is helped down the steps from a public toilet by Timothy Kpeh.

 

Equally, public health messaging and calls to stay inside are hard to follow for people who have little or no access to WASH facilities; those who rely on daily wages to survive; those living in densely populated informal settlements or refugee camps; and street dwellers. This puts them at greater risk of not only COVID-19, but also harsh punishment by authorities. For example, we are already seeing a response that includes clearance of informal markets and housing in the name of ‘sanitisation’ in some places. The Ebola crisis in Monrovia in 2014 set a precedent for quarantining entire informal settlements that were deemed a ‘health risk’. This a deep injustice.

Our response efforts can mitigate both existing and new vulnerabilities

While the poorest and least powerful are likely to be worst affected in crisis situations, we can work to alleviate the inequality through our response:

  1. Support governments and other WASH actors to deliver the human right to water and sanitation as a central part of response efforts, provided in a way that is non-discriminatory and accessible to all.
  2. Develop crisis responses alongside the affected communities rather than for them, to ensure solutions meet cultural, social and religious challenges. Disability rights, women’s rights and indigenous rights groups, to name a few, are best placed to help us shape our response in a way that is empowering, does no harm and responds to real requirements.
  3. Tackle and confront any discrimination and stigmatisation in response efforts, related to factors such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, livelihood type and caste. We must closely monitor our messaging, images and approaches to ensure they are not inadvertently fuelling discrimination.
  4. Promote collection of water, cleanliness of water and sanitation facilities and practising of hygiene as the responsibility of all – not just women.
  5. Recognise the obligations and responsibility of government and sector actors to respond; do not make this an issue of individual action or responsibility.
  6. Ensure we are collecting and disaggregating data to understand differing impacts on all parts of the population. At minimum age, disability, gender and location disaggregation is needed.

Read UNICEF’s COVID-19 Considerations for Children and Adults with Disabilities (PDF) guide.

Our simple list of dos and don’ts

As initial responses, including ours, rely heavily on visual and mass media public communications, it is vital that these are respectful and do no harm. Our list of actions to take and avoid can help.

Do: Use images and messaging that show responsibility for hygiene behaviours can be equally distributed.

  • Ensure images are gender balanced.
  • Include males in images of household & community hygiene practices to show collective responsibility.

Don’t

  • Do not reinforce gender or other stereotypes – i.e. do not show only women doing washing, cleaning or looking after children.

Do: Frame messaging that builds community spirit, support and collective action.

  • Use terms like ‘us’, ’we, ‘together as a community’, ‘altogether we can, etc.
  • Use images that show people helping each other.
  • Demonstrate sector/government response and duties, not just individual responsibility.

Don’t

  • Do not focus only on individualistic messages, which reinforce individualistic responses and actions.
  • Do not use emotional triggers such as shame, guilt or fear – we have a responsibility to avoid promoting further hysteria or blame.
  • Avoid emotional or negative language.

Do: Portray people in all their diversity.

  • Communities are made up of women, men, children, people with impairments, people of different ethnic or religious identifies, etc – reflect this reality in your communications to improve uptake.

Don’t

  • Do not blame or associate individual factors such as gender, ethnicity, religion, age, impairment, health or poverty status with reasons for infection or contagion.
  • Avoid messaging, images or implementation approaches that unintentionally stigmatise, ostracise or cause abuse for certain people.

Do: Acknowledge and respond to the diverse needs of communities.

  • Demonstrate how assistive devices can be used.
  • Demonstrate solutions that are relevant in low-income settlements, in rural and water scarce areas.
  • The Compendium of accessible WASH technologies has illustrations and descriptions you can adapt.

Don’t

  • Avoid blanket approaches that suggest that everyone can change behaviours without any specific adaptations.
  • Do not direct messaging or responsibility for ‘change of behaviour’ at one group of people, e.g. mothers, instead talk about parents caring for children.
  • Do not misrepresent the number of people who have a clean water supply or access to soap.

Do: Adapt communications to suit different target groups.

  • Consider the communication and learning abilities of all people, including people with visual, hearing and intellectual impairments.
  • Plan channels for information to reach all, especially those doing caring duties, sanitation work, etc.
  • Takeaway materials can reinforce messages and make up for some short-term memory loss among older people or people with disabilities.
  • These should be easy to read, large script, high contrast between text and paper, on non-glare/glossy paper, in local languages/dialects, highly visual​​​​.

Don’t

  • o not exclude anyone. Not being inclusive of all can lead to fear, shame and blame.
  • Do not portray informal settlements or slum areas as ‘vectors of disease’, or poorer areas of the city as being unable to keep clean. This reinforces stigma and increases the chance of a negative reaction. For example, there have already been cases of informal housing being cleared in the name of ‘sanitisation’. The solution lies in guaranteeing adequate and safe levels of service for all, rather than reinforcing stigma towards certain parts of the population.

Do: As part of our do no harm approach, do a risk assessment before and throughout communications campaigns

  • Monitor backlash on social media, such as racist comments and immediately delete as needed.
  • Check that it does not amplify or put blame on one group (or if audience is interpreting it that way).
  • List who is likely to miss out on the communication because of language, ability, culture or gender, and come up with strategies for how they could be included.

Don’t

  • Do not ostracise or promote ‘calling out’ of people or parts of the population. This may encourage vigilante tactics or backlash.
  • Avoid terms such as ‘victim’, ‘infecting’ or ‘spreading to others’.
  • Do not tolerate any racist, bigoted or blaming comments on social media and have a strategy for monitoring these.

Follow us on our journey through the response

As we support community, national and global responses to the coronavirus pandemic, we need to draw on what we already know, keep learning from others and ultimately improve the way in which response work reaches and addresses the needs of the most marginalised, the most burdened and those further away from life-saving clean water for hygiene, safe sanitation and basic healthcare.

At WaterAid, we are putting these principles into action, applying them to our COVID-19 response efforts, details of which you can read in this blog. We look forward to sharing lessons and challenges along the way.

Priya Nath is Equality, Inclusion and Rights Advisor and Louisa Gosling is Senior WASH Manager – Accountability and Rights, both at WaterAid UK.

Photo credit: WaterAid/ Ronny Sen

 

 

 

Social Dimension of Water Resource Management in Sri Lanka – Part 6

by Delgollage Senevirathne, Assistant General Manager (Sociologist) at the National Water Supply & Drainage Board (NWSDB), Sri Lanka.

(10) Gender sensitive approach to and participation in water issues countering caste, political and religious discrimination in access to water

Access to water is directly dependent on women participation in fetching water as they are held mainly responsible for provision of water at household level on a continuous basis particularly when they have to depend on non-point sources available in fair distances away from their households. Hence their participation is considered as an important factor in decision making process for developing water supply connections at their households. Caste and wealth are major factors in influencing the political hierarchy in promoting public funds to develop water supply projects among the minority communities particularly among the Tamil population. There is no religious discrimination in access to water. All religious institutions and people belonging to different religions are equally treated in deciding on the water supply development projects.

Continue reading “Social Dimension of Water Resource Management in Sri Lanka – Part 6”