The Water Integrity Network General Assembly just approved our next 10-year strategy for 2023-2033: Catalsying a culture of integrity. WIN will build on past successes and a strong tool and research portfolio while expanding and building capacity of its network of partners. The aim is to push forward a culture of integrity for the water and sanitation sectors, in support of the realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation for all.
“The challenges facing the water sector are immense and no single actor can solve them alone. Only through concerted efforts by all stakeholders—including governments, public institutions, businesses, private organisations, and civil society—can these challenges be confronted.”
We thank all our partners for their support and contributions in making WIN what it is today and helping shape this ambitious strategy. We invite you all to join this integrity journey for water and sanitation.
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When Saadia started working as an engineer for a public water utility in Morocco, she was always “the only woman at the table,” she recalls.
Today, as a trainer at the International Institute of Water and Wastewater (IEA) in Rabat, she helps prepare young people — including many young women — to join her in a sector that has traditionally been dominated by men.
In line with USAID Administrator Samantha Power’s call for more inclusive development, H2O Maghreb and other USAID activities have helped partners in many countries break the bias against women and girls in the water and sanitation sector.
H2O Maghreb, for which Saadia served as a trainer, was at the forefront of efforts to boost women’s employment in water and sanitation in Morocco during the project’s four-year duration. More than three-quarters of the 112 young people who enrolled in the project’s training course in sustainable water management from November 2018 to February 2022 — and 78 percent of its 91 graduates — were women.
The status quo
A World Bank study that collected data from 64 water and sanitation service providers in 28 countries found that, on average, only 18 percent of the utilities’ workers were women. In Morocco, a study commissioned by H2O Maghreb in 2021 revealed that the number of women entering the sector is increasing, but only a quarter of the employees in the government’s three main water and sanitation agencies were women.
Moroccan women’s representation in technical jobs was even lower. For example, at the country’s largest water utility, the Office National de L’électricité et de L’eau Potable (ONEE), about 17 percent of employees and less than one percent of technical enforcement agents were women.
Salma Kadiri, Project Management Specialist with USAID/Morocco, explains that employers usually avoid hiring women for technical jobs because of traditional expectations about women’s place in society. “For security reasons and because of social norms here in Morocco, they prefer not to give women jobs when they have to travel and go to the clients,” she says.
The best candidates
Conducted at ONEE’s IEA training hub, H2O Maghreb’s six-month courses offered trainees a mix of theoretical learning and hands-on experience, including practice responding to emergencies through a virtual water treatment plant created for the project by its private sector partners, EON Reality and Fesco Didactic. USAID and its implementing partner the United Nations Industrial Development Organization also partnered with ONEE and several Moroccan government ministries under this project.
This public-private partnership designed the training course to help meet a critical need for state-of-the-art capacity in sustainable water management at a time when Morocco’s limited freshwater resources are under pressure from population growth, industrialization, urbanization, and climate change. Morocco is also facing the worst drought in decades, meaning sustainable water management is more important than ever.
USAID also saw the project as an opportunity to expand the inclusion of women, and H2O Maghreb actively recruited female trainees. The 2021 study found that providing safe accommodations and meals at the IEA made it possible for young people from all regions of the country to participate in the training, and they may have been the deciding factor for young women considering participation.
Ultimately, however, the predominance of young women among the trainees reflected their performance on the entrance exams, notes Kadiri. “There were some actions that encouraged female participation,” she says, “But also the transparency and open competition of the hiring process for H2O Maghreb helped to select the best candidates, which happened to be women.”
Mentors and role models
The experiences of the first group of women trainees aided subsequent recruitment efforts, as these graduates returned to speak to other trainee classes and spread the word among their peers that H2O Maghreb is an environment where women can thrive. To create that environment, the project recruited women to serve as trainers, raised awareness of gender issues during the training of both trainers and trainees, used gender-neutral language, and featured women in training videos and printed materials.
Kadiri emphasizes the importance of mentoring, particularly by the two women trainers, who are “very encouraging and supportive of young female students.”
Women who had achieved success in water management positions, including engineers, technicians, trainers, and managers, also served as role models by participating in workshops to share their experiences with the trainees. Those discussions, Kadiri says, were “really eye-opening for the young students and helped them to project themselves in the water sector.”
For Saadia, the training was an opportunity to share her own experiences as an engineer and her love of the field with young people, especially young women. “Our training programs go beyond just teaching the right techniques,” she says. “We motivate our students to be passionate about what they do.”
A new generation
The H20 Maghreb project ended in February 2022, but the approach it pioneered continues. The project collaborated with Mohammed VI Polytechnic University to adapt the curriculum for a new degree program in sustainable water management. The Ministry of Education has accredited the H2O Maghreb curriculum, and Morocco’s Office of Professional Training and Work Promotion plans to offer vocational training based on the curriculum in the Beni Mellal region.
Seventy-five percent of the 91 students who completed the H2O Maghreb training found employment within six months of graduation (before the COVID-19 pandemic, when hiring slowed). Overall, about 68 percent were employed at project completion.
The placement rate of women trainees was even higher (79 percent pre-COVID), particularly in the public sector, where female recruits excelled in the merit-based hiring system — including a written test. “Women have more chances to succeed in these tests, rather than in the private sector, where it goes through interviews and interpersonal relations and networking, where women are less privileged or less well placed than men,” Kadiri says.
Saadia is proud that many of the women who graduated from H20 Maghreb are now her colleagues. “When I joined ONEE, a female water technician network didn’t exist; it was a job for men,” she says. “It’s a real revolution.”
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The negative consequences of a lack basic water and sanitation services are often felt most strongly by women and marginalised groups. Inadequate access to water severely affects women’s development and participation in society, impacting their nutrition, health and life expectancy. In 80% of households with water shortages, women and girls are responsible for water collection. This exposes them to a range of risks – particularly gender-based violence – including sextortion, a gendered form of corruption in which sex, rather than money, is the currency of the bribe. The time dedicated to ensuring household water supply also hinders women’s ability to engage productively in other parts of life, including attending school and earning an income.
Ultimately, fairness and impartiality are undermined, resulting in a failure of integrity. By not acknowledging or responding to the water and sanitation needs and priorities of half of the population, we will not reach SDG6 and remain far from SDG5.
So what can be done, and how can we better prioritise gender equality? Whether carrying out service delivery or shaping policy, institutions and sector organisations can do a lot from the inside out, building a culture of integrity through institutional commitment and capacity building for gender equality and social inclusion. This is a first step towards ensuring equitable access to water and sanitation for all.
Showing commitment at the top
Making sure that women have equal opportunities to access leadership positions can help to lay the groundwork for the right structural changes to occur. In Latin America, for example, several WIN partners can now count women amongst the top leadership positions in their organisations. In Pakistan, a woman is for the first time leading the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), the city utility in charge of delivering water and sanitation to over 16 million residents. As of early 2022, women held top jobs in a number of top private water sector companies, notably in the UK where all but one of the top jobs in the UK’s FTSE-listed water companies is held by women.
But empowered individuals at the top, whether they be women or men, does not necessarily mean that institutional transformation or gender-sensitive delivery will follow. Leadership, if pledging to remaining accountable to the populations they serve, must take specific steps to institutionalise gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) beyond their own positioning and into the fabric of their organisation and its delivery programme, with clear goals, both internal and external.
“Setting gender equality as a corporate goal enables leadership to plan and commit the time and resources needed to change organizational culture and achieve gender equality and inclusion. Goal
setting also allows organizations to take a systematic approach, benchmark progress, and establish
longer-term plans for sustained impact.” USAID Goal Setting Guide, p.1
Responsive staffing and programming: a worthwhile investment
To operationalise a commitment to GESI, supportive processes and systems are indispensable. Family-friendly policies, a cooperative workplace environment and work facilities which cater to the needs of women and marginalised groups can go a long way in attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce, as highlighted in the report Women in Water Utilities: Breaking Barriers. Water sector entities can also take a conscious decision to promote gender equality by, for example, supporting women-owned businesses through their supply chains and procurement practices, and through understanding and responding to the different water and sanitation needs of women and men.
Capacity and systems against discrimination and harassment
Effectively addressing and mitigating sexual harassment, both inside and outside the workplace, is also key. To do so is a commitment to upholding the dignity, safety, equality, and integrity of all employees and clients. Organisations need to have clear policies and procedures for staff expectations and how they respond to internal and external cases, act promptly when situations arise, treat all complaints seriously, provide adequate support and redress mechanisms for those who file complaints and train all relevant staff and those in leadership positions on sexual harassment.
In addition, organisations must pay specific attention and work to mitigate the risk of sextortion through public awareness campaigns, staff training, appropriate disciplinary procedures, and whistle-blowing mechanisms. As an issue that appears wherever those entrusted with power use such power over another’s body, sextortion can occur both within an organisation (e.g. a manager asking for a sexual bribe in exchange for giving someone a job), or externally (e.g. field staff demanding a sexual favour from a customer in exchange for water access, a favourable meter reading or a discount).
A few questions can guide the formulation of these processes:
Assess the status quo:
Does your organisation have a strategy that outlines leaders’ responsibility to deliver on gender equality? Having dedicated gender focal points is a good practice, but these do not replace the critical role of leaders in the organisation to advance the gender equality agenda.
Are women and marginalised groups adequately represented in your organisation, and in programme implementation? The ‘nothing about them without them’ approach can serve as a useful reminder about the need for meaningful participation throughout the project cycle. Inquire who is marginalised in a given context, and involve these groups in consultations and decision-making opportunities.
Are there dedicated resources available for GESI? Institutional capacity to carry out GESI may need to be strengthened through training, dedicated expertise, and outreach activities. Without a budget or the proper allocation of resources to gender mainstreaming, commitments can be side-tracked by other priorities.
How are current policies being implemented? Maybe your organisation already has gender equality and inclusion policies in place. Nevertheless, it is good practice to critically assess how these stated goals are being achieved and where there is room for improvement. Are there accountability mechanisms in place to ensure that commitments on paper are being upheld in practice?
Develop KPIs which include gender equality and inclusion expectations
Make a list of incentives and drivers that make the case for GESI to be integrated at the organisational level. Examples can include: Meeting CSR objectives; Better access to funding and donor relationships; Enhancing your organisation’s external reputation and strengthening community relationships; Reaching the most vulnerable households through service delivery
Assess how your company’s attraction, recruitment, retention and advancement procedures work for women and marginalised groups
Establish anti-harassment policies and reliable, confidential complaint processes
Ensure equitable pay independent of gender and other attributes
Increase training opportunities
Assess other integrity-related risks (e.g. conflicts of interest, internal misreporting, poor complaint mechanisms) and how they may exacerbate gender inequalities
Organisational commitment to mainstreaming gender equality and inclusion is a critical first step to ensure availability and the sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. To do this with integrity means going beyond policies and symbolic gestures. It requires real commitment and putting in place tangible processes and capacities to translate promises into concrete measures. Involving women and marginalised groups cannot be neglected in this process.
As of 2020, Vietnam had the highest levels of rural water coverage among any country of comparable economic level, with coverage equivalent to countries with two to three times its per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We were curious: what was the contribution to this success by the billion dollar Asian Development Bank Water Sector Investment Fund (“the Fund”)?
To answer this question, we invited Hubert Jenny, formerly of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and now consulting for UNICEF, for a conversation on the REAL-Water podcast (available on Anchor, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts, among other platforms).
Hubert designed and oversaw ADB’s ten-year, $1 billion loan fund initiated in 2010 to support Vietnamese water companies’ measures for improving performance. Set up as a Multitranche Financing Facility, the program was meant to support institutional reforms, most notably a 2007 central government decree mandating that Vietnamese public service providers achieve full cost recovery.
On the REAL-Water podcast, we consider questions of rural water supply through the lenses of governance, financing, and innovation. We asked Hubert how the Fund he managed came into being and what lessons the recent Vietnamese water sector experience can offer rural water supply development.
With respect to governance, we were struck by the role of champions — both key stakeholder institutions and individuals with commitment, motivation, and skills to make transformative change. The Vietnam Womens’ Union and the Vietnamese Fatherland Front both command enormous influence in the country, so persuading each group of the value of the Fund for improving water utility performance was instrumental to the Fund program’s embrace by government officials and communities. During 18 months of preparation, Hubert and his colleagues convened public stakeholder workshops (open to the media) every three months which, together with their regular contacts, turned these key groups into the Fund’s biggest supporters.
Individual champions can also play a critical role: Hubert pointed specifically to Truong Cong Nam, the President and Director of the Thua Thien Hue Construction and Water Supply Company (HueWACO), in central Vietnam. HueWACO, in which the Fund invested, is among the best performing provincial water utilities in Vietnam. We were fascinated to learn that Mr. Nam has been mentored by the acclaimed Cambodian engineer Ek Sonn Chan, who won international accolades for transforming the Phnom Penh Water Supply Company from a utility in ruins into one of the best performing in Asia.
Critically, strong governance builds trust in institutions, and this trust is essential when introducing the increases in monthly water fees that are often required to help the water utility break even. Hubert notes the commitment of water suppliers to raise fees with care, working with ADB to ask consumers what they are willing to pay for the service and conduct affordability studies to estimate the kinds of increases poor and marginalized customers could absorb.
In one remarkable account, Hubert describes the position of ethnic minorities in rural Vietnam who were legally not required to pay water fees. The responsible water service providers would not expand coverage to reach those communities because they would not be able to recover their costs, so the communities themselves made the case that they actually wanted to pay, knowing that this would make reliable water service possible.
Meanwhile, Hubert highlighted that full cost recovery by water service providers — while an essential management objective — can also represent a hazard to the public interest, insofar as it may remove the incentive to improve systems and expand coverage.
In the domain of innovation, Hubert pointed to research that Aquaya conducted as part of the Fund, examining the possibility of HueWACO assuming responsibility for rural water supply systems throughout Thua Thien Hue province, including the deployment of novel water treatment technologies (such as hollow-fiber ultrafiltration and in-line chlorination). This management change is an example of the kind of consolidation of multiple rural water supply systems that is now gaining credibility as a way to increase efficiencies, allowing for a cross-subsidy to support those systems for whom full cost recovery may continue to be a challenge. Vietnam’s 2021–2025 five year plan mandates its Ministry of Construction to integrate rural and urban water supply, in connection with the regulation of newly privatized large utilities.
Committed individual champions, securing the trust of influential civic organizations, supporting tariff reforms with reliable data on affordability and willingness-to-pay — all of these contributed to the success of ADB’s $1 billion water fund, and are lessons that can be tested in other settings. More broadly, however, widespread trust in institutions increased the ease with which these reforms could be implemented.
WIGO is a flagship publication of WIN and its network partners. Published every three years, it is a call for action for water integrity, bringing together the latest research and cases on specific themes.
The first WIGO, published in 2016, demonstrated a growing recognition of the need for measures to improve integrity and to eliminate corruption to enhance performance in the water and sanitation sectors.
WIGO 2021 focused on integrity for urban water and sanitation
WIGO 2024 will focus on the role of integrity in sustainable water and sanitation sector finance. It will examine integrity risks in water and sanitation sector finance and the way integrity can be strengthened at different levels, in public financial management, in the sector, and in individual projects.
We are currently defining the specific scope of this next WIGO and are keen to hear feedback and ideas about partnerships and case studies that are important for the publication.
Interested in taking part or have a case study or idea to share? Please get in touch.
As a network organisation, WIN relies on the engagement of its partnerships to advance the water integrity agenda. Working with a range of civil society representatives, water sector stakeholders, funders, research institutes, IGOs, NGOs and other networks, WIN has shown that a great deal can be achieved through collaboration at all levels and practical action to reduce integrity risks.
In order to remain effective in our mission and responsive to partners’ needs, the annual Partner Survey is an opportunity to learn more about what we are doing right, what we can improve upon and how we can better function as a network. In addition, it allows WIN to take stock of our partner’s needs, find ways to improve our support and define our activities. Similar to the 2021 survey, we asked partners a range of questions related to WIN’s tools, trainings, research and publications, network activities and overall support, as well as how integrity features in their activities and work plans for the coming year.
What we has seen time and again is that improving integrity requires collective action. Through WIN’s strong network of partners that continue to drive the principles of Transparency, Accountability, Participation and preventive Anti-Corruption measures, we are ensuring that integrity remains on the map to help realise the human rights to water and sanitation for all.
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