Gender Disaggregated Data on Water and Sanitation


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Publication Title

Gender Disaggregated Data on Water and Sanitation: Expert Group Meeting Report

Publication Type

UN-Water and UNDESA Joint Publication


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Gender considerations are at the heart of providing, managing and conserving the world’s water resources as well as for safeguarding public health and private dignity through proper provision of sanitation and hygiene. The central role of women in water resource management and sanitation, especially in developing countries, is increasingly recognized at all levels of development activity. In most countries, women are, in fact, the primary stakeholders in the water and sanitation sectors, and are the primary providers of water for domestic consumption. They are also responsible for health, hygiene, sanitation and other productive activities at the household level. Lack of access to water and sanitation directly affects women’s health, education, employment, income and empowerment. The gendered dynamics of water and sanitation underscore the close inter-linkages between poverty, gender and sustainable development.

The issue of sanitation received global recognition and concrete commitments for the first time in 2002 at the [[World Summit on Sustainable Development]]. There, governments agreed to a specific target to cut in half the proportion of people without basic sanitation by 2015. This complemented the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target on safe drinking water. At the same time, these commitments highlighted the role of sanitation in improving human health, in reducing infant and child mortality, and improving the situation of women in terms of their dignity and security.

So far, global commitments made in the areas of water and sanitation, (including the MDG goals) do not specifically address the equitable division of power, work, access to and control of resources between women and men. The current system to assess global progress towards reaching the MDGs, through the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), until recently did not have any gender indicator for the water and sanitation goals; one gender-specific indicator has now been added. This slight representation underscores how critical it is to better mainstream gender perspectives into national and global water and sanitation (WATSAN) planning and monitoring processes to ensure that the different needs of women and men are understood, and that the specific needs and concerns of women are taken into account.

At the level of policy formation, there is no shortage of rhetorical support for gender inclusion by official agencies and governments. Almost all of the key global frameworks and action plans on water and sanitation include gender considerations in their overall field of vision. Most ‘calls for action’ or recommendations include some commitment to gender inclusion. More broadly, mandates for gender inclusion and gender equity frame almost all the key multilateral agreements to which most of the world’s governments are party, from CEDAW to Beijing to the MDG commitments. However, this has not produced tangible improvements in gender equity in the water and sanitation sectors.

This lack of progress is due in part to the stark absence of gender disaggregated WATSAN data. Without gender-disaggregated data, it is not possible to fully measure progress towards MDG or other goals. Without data, it is difficult to make effective analytical assessments of the comparative situation of women and men in different communities or parts of the world. Sound policy formulation is hampered by the lack of information about the gendered realities of water and sanitation access, need and use in private and public sectors. Gender disaggregated data are essential to assess the effects of policy measures on women and men. Data are essential to be able to evaluate and track the pivotal role of women in development and to apprehend the specific contributions of women as a “Major Group” in society (as detailed in Agenda 21).

Against this background of pressing data needs, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) and the UN Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development (UNW-DPC) convened an Expert Group Meeting (EGM) in December 2008 from which this report was created.


See also



Gender and Water

External Resources



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