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Four Reasons to Get Serious about Including Gender

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As a water and sanitation specialist working in the development sector for almost two decades, I have often experienced the unease the topic of gender sometimes evokes. But this week, I have found myself among peers ready to talk about the issue with unrestrained gusto.

So, boosted by mob resolve I offer you four reasons it’s time to get serious about including gender into our work. Please feel free to add more!

·       If you were born in a developing country, it’s possible you would have a part-time career playing the role of a water pipe. On average, women and girls in developing countries walk six kilometers a day, carrying 20 liters of water or more, reducing the time they have for work, social or political life, or school (UNICEF). Cumulatively, one estimate suggests that some 40 billion hours a year are spent collecting water in sub-Saharan Africa –- equal to a year’s labor for the entire workforce of France (UNDP, 2006). A gendered approach allows women to be part of finding solutions to problems, "engineers," and not just "pipes."


·       Gender-reformed schooling and industry opportunities make the difference between your own, or your child's life and death. Gender perspectives add value to research to ensure excellence in quality of outcomes; to business by adding new ideas to technology; and to society by ensuring that engineering projects are more responsive to social needs. A good example comes from the automotive industry - conventional seat belts did not fit pregnant women properly, and motor vehicle crashes have been the leading cause of fetal death related to maternal trauma (Weiss, Songer, Fabio 2001). At Volvo, almost 50 percent of the Safety Center employees are women and they showed more willingness  to take on the issue than other automotive firms. They developed the first automotive crash dummy, with an ability to represent every stage of pregnancy at the push of a button. This is contributing to further research into improving automotive safety standards for pregnant women.  


·       A gendered approach will pay off for your country in the long term. In a global economy, the number of women participating in sector development can make a difference to competitiveness (World Development Report 2012). Inequality between women and men as a constraint on economic growth at the micro and macro levels has been well documented.


·       Behavior change initiatives are more successful if a gendered framework of cooperation is in place. Handwashing with soap is a powerful weapon; it can reduce instances of diarrhea by 35 - 50%, reduce acute respiratory infections by 30% and, is a key preventative measure against other illnesses such as avian flu and cholera. A WSP handwashing project in Senegal initially identified women as the target audience. However, an emerging lesson was that the team needed to consider the role of Senegalese men as heads of household, with the potential for adding men as a target audience for project implementation (Involving Men in Handwashing Behavior Change Interventions in Senegal, 2010).

I have another post coming soon on the key lessons and challenges discussed today. Let’s keep this conversation going!





Rosemary Rop

Water & Sanitation Specialist

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