Women’s empowerment and equity

Participation in WaterCredit Women are taking on WaterCredit loans for improved water supply and sanitation
Strong evidence N/A
Decision-making authority Improvements lead to increased decision-making authority for women
Mixed evidence Mixed evidence
Time gains Improvements lead to time gains for women and girls
Strong evidence Strong evidence
Financial inclusion WaterCredit enables other financial opportunities for women through credit history
Limited evidence N/A
Income opportunities Improvements lead to greater income opportunities for women
Mixed evidence Mixed evidence
School attendance Improvements lead to increased school attendance for girls
Mixed evidence Mixed evidence
Health benefits Improvements benefit the health of women and girls
Mixed evidence Strong evidence
Safety and dignity benefits Improvements benefit the safety and dignity of women and girls
Emerging evidence Strong evidence

Advancing women’s empowerment and equity is a guiding ambition for Water.org. Women are the primary users of the microfinance solutions that we support, and our data therefore provides insights into what women and girls gain from household investments – including time, income and educational opportunities, health, dignity and safety. Microfinance is a tool women can use to push for equity through all of these pathways at once. We have helped them to do so, especially in the countries where we have worked, and the work continues: the wider ambition of gender transformative change goes beyond the water sector and demands broad collaboration.

Women take out most WaterCredit loans by far

It is plausible that water supply and sanitation improvements can lead to increased decision-making authority for women, but the global evidence base is mixed. In the water sector and beyond, there is also limited evidence that women’s access to credit enhances their control or decision-making power in their households.

Close to 90% of borrowers taking out WaterCredit loans are women. They often play a central role in the decision-making around whether to take out a loan, and for what. Their priorities overlap with those of male borrowers, but differ in degree: women are more likely than men to take out loans for improving sanitation or water quality.

While women are the foremost direct borrowers, many share responsibilities for loan repayments, especially where they have no personal income-generating activities. And this is often the case: in an evaluation in India and Indonesia, about half of the women who took out loans did not have an independent source of income. Decision-making power is a very complex area to investigate, and water and sanitation systems reflect much broader power imbalances in society. Our evaluations offer mixed evidence about women’s decision-making power, and about whether their use of WaterCredit loans can improve their authority or shift gender norms in households. This ultimately depends on their voice, agency and existing level of control over their own and their familial resources.

Borrowers as of 2022 by purpose of loan

Sanitation 3,211,417 women
220,605 men
Water 1,719,963 women
330,467 men
Water and sanitation 255,236 women
85,388 men
Water quality 158,895 women
11,213 men

Women and girls stand to gain in health, safety and dignity

Everybody who experiences periods, pregnancy and/or menopause has extra water and sanitation requirements during these times of their lives. Unequal expectations of modesty may, nevertheless, restrict women’s and girls’ options for washing and going to the restroom outside the home, for instance forcing them to wait until nightfall.

Improvements to water supply and sanitation offer health benefits for women and girls. While the reliability of health data from past self-reported surveys is limited, and these have not included specific questions on women’s and girls’ health, both women and men have said that their families’ health has improved since making improvements. Women have stated that family members are less likely to be ill.

There is a clear relationship between water, sanitation and wellbeing for women and girls, as well as for nonbinary gender minorities. Strong emerging evidence shows that our programs have led to improvements in safety and dignity, which are key to wellbeing and empowerment for these groups. Many borrowers speak of how water collection exposes women to risks of gender-based harassment, abuse and chronic stress, and how water insecurity triggers stress and violence in the household. Women as well as men say they feel safer with their new facilities – both from human and animal dangers – and evaluation participants in India and Bangladesh have reported greater feelings of dignity.

Compared to before your new water improvement, how would you rate your personal safety now?











(n = 8,856 women)

Women find opportunity in time savings, income possibilities and education

Time use surveys show that women and girls perform most of the unpaid care and domestic work that is done worldwide, including long-distance water collection. This erases the time they have for work or other interests and reinforces the disadvantages that come with their gender-assigned roles.

Time savings are key reasons for women to take out WaterCredit loans, and there is strong evidence that these gains have been substantial for them. As the primary water-carriers, women report that it takes dramatically less time to collect water from their primary water source, and household toilets also bring substantial time gains.

Improvements in water supply and sanitation can also contribute to women’s employment opportunities. Our evidence hints at this. Evaluations in India, Bangladesh and elsewhere indicate increased income for women, though not whether this is based on new opportunities or existing activities. In Indian evaluations, 62% of the household members who redirected saved time into income-generating activities were women, and 23% of households reported that they had raised their total household income thanks to the extra time available to women.

Households that have invested in their own improvements report that both girls and boys can devote more time to studying, and the data shows increases in school attendance and study hours. In particular, an evaluation in Cambodia showed a decrease in the number of households who stated that fetching water interfered with children going to school.

Overall, have you observed any changes since the construction of your improvement(s) on school attendance of children?











(n = 6,037 households)

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Next frontiers

Ways to fill the evidence gaps: