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Leadership and voice: more than add women and stir

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Why is women’s leadership and voice important? Why is it relevant to WASH?
Women taking up leadership positions in society can influence the aspirations of younger generations, and has the potential to shift gender norms and deliver more inclusive policies and development. However, barriers to women’s leadership and voice in the political domain are many and they operate at multiple levels, through both informal and formal norms and practices. There are more barriers still to achieving transformative women’s leadership that really challenges the status quo and achieves lasting change in gender and social power structures.

The article suggests that it is vital to consider whose voices are being heard, the quality (not just quantity) of leadership roles, and the broader structural changes in political, economic, cultural and religious systems that can foster a meaningful increase in women’s voice and influence.

What does this mean for WASH interventions? This article has emerged from a research project Gender in WASH: partnerships, workforce and impact assessment, currently underway led by ISF-UTS and partners. Key questions related to women’s leadership and voice explored through this project include:

  • How are local gender-focused and WASH civil society organisations interpreting their role in achieving increased women’s voice?
  • Is ensuring women have a place at the table in decisions on WASH policy and practice enough to achieve more gender and inclusive approaches and outcomes?
  • What attributes support women and people of all genders to achieve and enact successful, inclusive leadership roles in institutions and more broadly?
  • How can we meaningfully measure the impact of WASH programs on women’s leadership and voice? How can we move beyond measures of quantity towards a focus on the quality?

In investigating these questions and critcal debates, the programme hopes to support the WASH sector’s engagement with leadership and voice, so as to promote meaningful and influential leadership roles and an increased awareness of whose voices (including both women and men, in all their diversity) are being heard, or not.

Date: 17 June 2019