Skip to main content


Access to water, sanitation and hygiene takes on particular importance for women and girls given their traditional role as stewards of household water and managers of household sanitation, their reproductive and menstrual health needs, and their role in caring for home, children and elderly and/or sick relatives.

Despite this, women are often left out of critical discussion and decisions relating to water, sanitation and hygiene. Policies, programmes and initiatives that promote opportunities for women to take on leadership roles improves decision-making on water and sanitation services.

When women are included in decision-making on water, sanitation and hygiene issues, services tend to be more accessible and sustainable, and key matters, such as menstrual health requirements, which tend to be ignored or silenced are brought to the fore. Furthermore, ensuring sustainable and affordable access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene empowers women and girls –allowing them to attend school and work, playing an important role in society and can reach their full potential.

SWA partners work together to prioritize gender-responsive approaches in actions and policies, thus contributing to achieving SDG5 -Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Equality and non-discrimination, which includes considerations of gender, are cross-cutting principles that permeate all SWA activities: from the way governments develop national sanitation plans, to the issues that are prioritized at SWA High-Level Meetings, to the people that participate in SWA panel discussions and events. Activities include support for research on gender and access to sanitation and water; advocacy and support for gender-positive policies, strategies and plans; and the encouragement of the meaningful participation of women in management bodies and planning processes at all country levels.

At global level, SWA works with partners to ensure that sector guidance is gender-responsive and -sensitive and that women and girls are empowered and reach their full potential. In October 2019, SWA launched Gender Month in order to draw attention to gender in SWA partners' work.

Women and girls are responsible for water collection in 8 out of 10 households with water off premises, so reducing the population with limited drinkingwater services will have a strong gender impact.

A study of time and water poverty in 25 Sub-Saharan African countries estimated that women spend at least 16 million hours a day collecting drinking water, while men spend 6 million hours, and children 4 million hours on the task.

About half of the schools in low-income countries lack adequate[vi]drinking water, sanitation and hygiene crucial for girls and female teachers to manage their period. Inadequate facilities can affect girls’ experience at school, causing them to miss school during their period. All schools should provide running water, safe and clean toilets for adolescent girls.

1 million deaths each year are associated with unclean births. Infections account for 26% of neonatal deaths and 11% of maternal mortality.

Reducing the time it takes to fetch water from 30 to 15 minutes increased girls’ school attendance by 12% according to a study in Tanzania.

In 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, women spend16 million hours collecting watereach day.


View all Key documents
Key documents Type
Briefing Paper: Leaving No One Behind
WASH: A Pathway to Realizing Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls
Ban Ki-moon

Water challenges go beyond questions of access. In many countries, girls are forced to drop out of school owing to a lack of sanitation facilities, and women are harassed or assaulted when carrying water or visiting a public toilet.

Former UN Secretary General
Catarina de Albuquerque

In many countries, social or cultural norms prevent girls and women from using the same sanitation facilities as male relatives, for instance the father-in-law, or prohibit the use of household facilities on the days women and girls menstruate. More generally, menstrual health management presents an enormous challenge for many adolescent girls and women. I have made it a priority during my mandate to always enquire about menstrual hygiene, and I have found that talking about menstruation is taboo all over the world.

SWA CEO and former UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation