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Women and water

Both women and men should be involved in making decisions about local water services

Written by Gebre Belete 2023

A young female student wearing a pink headcovering stands smiling in a doorway in Ethiopia.

Hindiya is a student in Ethiopia. Photo: Frehiwot Gebrewold/WaterAid

A smiling Brazilian woman collects water from a running tap fixed to a red brick wall.

From: Safe drinking water - Footsteps 120

How to value, look after and ensure the safety of drinking water

‘I am fine during the wet season. I can go and collect water. But during the long dry season I feel tired when I go and fetch water. I also feel sick. It is a lot of work. At times I may have no water at all.’ Woman in Konso, Ethiopia.

In rural Ethiopia, as in many parts of the world, it is often the responsibility of women and girls to provide water for their households. However, climate change is resulting in more unpredictable rainfall and many women are finding it increasingly difficult to access safe water.

For example:

  • Longer dry periods mean women often need to walk further and spend more time queuing at water points. As well as being tiring, this can increase their risk of sexual and gender-based violence, particularly if they are collecting water when it is dark. 
  • Spending more time collecting water can affect household food production, childcare and other work that women are involved in (paid or unpaid). It may also reduce the amount of time they have available to rest and sleep. This can cause exhaustion and other health problems, particularly during pregnancy and when they are breastfeeding.
  • As the climate changes and water sources become less reliable, girls may increasingly have to miss or drop out of school to help their mothers collect water, contributing to ongoing cycles of gender inequality and poverty.
  • More frequent or severe flooding increases the risk of water supplies becoming contaminated and makes it dangerous for people to collect water. 
A woman, wearing a blue patterned dress, digs a trench in the soil using a wooden tool for a water pipe in rural Ethiopia.

Tiru Getahun, a money collector for her village water committee in Ethiopia, digs a trench for a water pipe extension to her home. Photo: Frehiwot Gebrewold/WaterAid


Although these issues tend to affect women more than men, women are often not involved in discussions about community water services. However, when they are given the opportunity to share their concerns and make their own decisions, they can choose options that help them to cope with the demands they face each day.

It is crucial that local government representatives, non-governmental organisations and community groups all take measures to ensure the meaningful participation of women in decisions being made about water. 

For example, they can:

  • hold meetings and discussions at times and places that work for women as well as men, and provide childcare if needed
  • structure meetings so that women and men have the chance to talk in separate groups, as well as together – this can make it easier for women to express their opinions
  • help women to record their experiences when collecting water, for example by drawing pictures or taking photographs and videos. These can then be shared with the whole community, helping to shape decision-making processes. 


Women should be fully involved in implementing the decisions that are made. This includes having access to any employment opportunities associated with community water services.

Tiru Getahun, a young woman from Burie Zuria in Ethiopia, is a member of her village water committee. She says: ‘I manage three of the water points in my village. I collect money when people get water from the water points. For that I get paid, and I earn 500 Ethiopian Birr (US$9) a month. Also, when there is a problem with the water taps I report that to the chair of the water committee.’

A woman in traditional clothing checks the equipment for a water treatment plant in Bangladesh.

Gita Roy checks equipment at the water treatment plant she helps to run. Photo: Farzana Hossen/Drik/WaterAid

Case study: Leading change

In 2001, when Gita Roy was 17 years old, she married and moved to her husband’s village on the south-west coast of Bangladesh.

Gita’s daily chores included collecting water for herself and her 14 family members. As a direct result of climate change there was no safe water source in the village, so this was a time-consuming and exhausting task. 

In 2019, Gita learnt of an initiative developed by WaterAid and local organisation Rupantar, in consultation with local communities. Recognising that women in rural Bangladesh are not traditionally involved in decision-making, the initiative responds to women’s groups who want to take the lead in improving access to climate-resilient water services. 

Delighted to join this initiative, Gita formed a group with ten other women, and they began to advocate for the necessary community agreement for a water treatment plant that makes saltwater safe to drink. Some in the community felt that women should not be business leaders, but the group was determined and went from door to door, explaining the benefits of the project.

Eventually the community agreed to the project, including the water treatment plant being operated exclusively by women. The plant opened in 2020 and many people from the surrounding area attended the ceremony. Gita says, ‘I struggle to find words to describe what I felt at that moment… Swarms of people came to our plant throughout the day to collect water and I could see all the hard work coming to fruition.’ Today the plant serves nine villages, and it has become increasingly profitable and efficient. 

Well known for her hard work and determination, Gita won a local council election in 2022. She says, ‘Having my own identity, earning my own income and not depending on anyone for my needs is very satisfying.’

You can learn more about Gita’s story in this report from the Global Center on Adaptation.

Kathryn Pharr is a Senior Policy Adviser on International Climate Action with WaterAid.

Additional resources

Written by

Written by  Gebre Belete

Gebre Belete is a Climate-Resilient WASH Specialist with WaterAid Ethiopia. WaterAid works with local partners to improve access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation.

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