Considering gender equality in WASH during COVID-19: What we have learned?


During the WASH and COVID-19 Pandemic Online Symposium, the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) at the University of Technology, Sydney and partners, supported by the Water for Women Fund, are convening a workshop on COVID-19, Gender and WASH.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, women and girls were already disproportionately affected by a lack of WASH services. These groups bear the burden of sourcing water, managing higher, gender specific WASH needs and caring for family members. Girls are more likely to miss school, women have reduced economic opportunities and both risk violence when meeting WASH needs.

When the pandemic emerged these burdens and impacts increased. Studies show that COVID-19 has had a significant, negative impact on women, [1] further deepening inequalities.

As a result of the pandemic, women have assumed higher burdens of care as frontline healthcare workers and in the home, particularly for health and schooling [2]. When combined with travel restrictions, new pressures have further limited work opportunities and caused financial strain [3]. With extended lockdowns, domestic violence has increased [4]. Women are more likely to be displaced, with limited services in refugee settings and face increased risk of disease transmission at crowded community service points [5].

Despite previous studies showing the importance of incorporating gender into health crisis response [6], and efforts advocating for a gendered approach to emergency health responses, a WaterAid study [7] and SIWI and UNICEF study [8] found that there has still been limited integration of gender in the WASH emergency response at the policy and field level.

Women working in the WASH workforce in Cambodia and part of EMW and ISF-UTS research funded under Water for Women. Photo credit: Simone Soeters.

To explore this issue further, ISF-UTS and SNV, through Water for Women, are conducting a strengths-based research study in Bhutan, Nepal and Lao PDR to understand how WASH sector leaders have been positively responding during COVID-19 to ensure the needs of women, marginalized and vulnerable groups are represented and heard.

Melita Grant, Research Principal at the ISF, observed that it has been particularly challenging to maintain momentum in gender-focused WASH partnerships when partners have been focused on urgent COVID-19 response and unable to meet in person. Research has become more difficult: some data collection at the household level has had to be postponed, which makes it challenging to assess program effectiveness.

“At the outset of the pandemic, with all travel halted, we had to consider ways to effectively engage with our research partners that kept the process interactive, interesting and collaborative. We investigated remote research methods and experimented with online tools to find workable platforms. Across the research community we explored how to continue our work with the support of new or previously underutilized technologies. For example, learnings on remote data collection were shared widely via webinars.” says Grant.

ISF, SNV with other partners of the Water for Women Fund, are convening an interactive workshop on the gendered impacts of COVID-19. Using feminist theory, the workshop offers the opportunity to explore the impact of COVID-19 on women and the ways their power has shifted, with a focus on the experience of WASH practitioners. The workshop conveners will facilitate discussion at breakout tables, where participants can share and co-analyse what they observed during the pandemic, both positive and negative.

The workshop will draw on the research study delving into how WASH leaders (government and CSO) are transforming inequalities in their responses to COVID-19, because now more than ever leadership needs to be inclusive and gender transformative.

Another case study of gendered innovation in the face of COVID-19 to be shared during the workshop, comes from Plan International and Live & Learn Environmental Education’s Water for Women project in  Solomon Islands, where they worked with MJ Enterprises, to support this women-led enterprise to diversify into the production of locally-made face masks, providing an alternative income stream for the all-female staff, while also responding to community hygiene needs.


The COVID-19, Gender and WASH workshop will be held from 15:00-16:30 AEST on Wednesday 21 April 2021.

For more information click here.

The online symposium WASH & the COVID-19 Pandemic: Responses for recovery and resilience is a knowledge-sharing event of Water and WASH Futures. Water and WASH Futures is a partnership activity of the Australian Aid program and International WaterCentre; this symposium is delivered with the partnership of Water for Women Fund and Grand Challenges Canada. For more information, visit

[1] United Nations (2020) Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women, UN Women

[2] Ibid

[3] Wenham, C, Smith, J & Morgan, R (2020) COVID-19: the gendered impacts of the outbreak, The Lancet, Volume 395, Issue 10227, P846-848, March 14, 2020

[4] United Nations (2020) Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women, UN Women

[5] Said, A, Saikia, P & Klimes, M (2020) Tracing Intersections of COVID-19: Gender, Water and Armed Conflicts, The Swedish Institute of International Affairs

[6] Wenham, C, Smith, J & Morgan, R (2020) COVID-19: the gendered impacts of the outbreak, The Lancet, Volume 395, Issue 10227, P846-848, March 14, 2020

[7] Benini, D (2021) The gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls, WaterAid, 18 January 2021

[8] SIWI & UNICEF (2020) COVID-19 WASH Responses by Governments, Water Utilities and Stakeholders in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Countries, SIWI, August 2020,