Connecting Waterpeople

Closing the gap in women’s rights and opportunities in Humanitarian WASH in South Sudan

  • Closing the gap in women’s rights and opportunities in Humanitarian WASH in South Sudan

About the entity

International Organization for Migration IOM
Established in 1951, IOM is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration and works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners.
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Significant barriers including entrenched gendered divisions in labour, high risks of gender-based violence and working environments not considerate of women’s needs or valuing their contributions, are hampering women’s participation in water, sanitation and hygiene services as well as the wider humanitarian sector in South Sudan, research conducted by IOM and RedR UK has revealed.

The research, “Closing Gender Gap in the Humanitarian WASH Sector in South Sudan”, is the first ever systematic and cluster-wide study in the country on this issue. It has identified barriers that women face at three-levels – structural, institutional and individual – and the harmful gender norms that underpin these barriers and limit opportunities in the sector for women.

The work was funded as part of the ‘Humanitarian Assistance and Resilience in South Sudan (HARISS)’ project funded by the United Kingdom Department for International Development. It is endorsed by the national Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Cluster and Gender-based Violence (GBV) Sub-cluster in South Sudan.

The research and programme guidance are launched against a backdrop of efforts to prevent and respond for COVID-19 pandemic, while continuing to provide for the humanitarian needs of nearly 7.5 million South Sudanese in need of humanitarian assistance – among them, more than one million internally displaced persons.

"In South Sudan 62 percent of the population have to travel for longer than 30 minutes to access a safe water source. This is both a public health and a protection risk. As women and girls are primarily impacted by this issue, without engaging and employing women to work in the WASH sector, our ability to address their needs and issues is reduced.... this priority issue for the WASH Cluster in South Sudan," said WASH Cluster Information management Officer, Olivia Pearson.

In many communities across South Sudan, inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene services often affect women and girls the most

Many WASH-related paid opportunities, such as engineers or pump mechanics, as well as other leadership roles and governance activities linked to the management of WASH services, are often considered as ‘men’s jobs’. With women fulfilling other community voluntary activities often based on their traditional roles in domestic and communal clean-up campaigns, for example. Moreover, community and programme decision-makers routinely exclude females under the pretext that these roles are ‘not suitable for women.’

“It is our duty to recognize that to close the gender gap, in the WASH sector and beyond, our institutions, programme design and implementation must reinforce women’s role as active participants in humanitarian assistance and not simply as passive beneficiaries,” said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, IOM South Sudan Chief of Mission.

In many communities across South Sudan, inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene services often affect women and girls the most. Although rooted in the WASH sector, this research contributes to important global and national commitments which recognize that women’s rights and gender equality are required to respond in emergencies and for effective peace and development.  To practically achieve these commitments redressing the barriers to women’s opportunities to meaningfully engage in the sector as required. 

"The report shows that there is an urgent need to develop the knowledge and skills of women in water, sanitation and hygiene response, especially in managerial and engineering roles. They need to have equal access to trainings to learn new skills and have better opportunities,” said Jo de Serrano, the Chief Executive Officer of RedR UK.

To address these issues, IOM and RedR UK’s report highlights a number of good practices used by aid agencies in South Sudan and actions that can be undertaken at the programmatic, institutional and structural level, within the WASH sector, and beyond:

  • Use the accompanying Closing the Gender Gap in WASH Programme Guide to improve policies, processes and address attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers
  • Promote cross-sector collaboration with the GBV Sub-Cluster, Gender and GBV Specialists
  • Adapt recruitment, retention and professional development including leadership training, paid internships, mentoring, coaching, and on the job skills training
  • Review policies for maternity leave and breastfeeding with periods of flexible work arrangements for all staff, including daily workers
  • Initiate campaigns to create attitudinal change within the WASH sector, and beyond
  • Ensure security decisions are consultative and enabling for women, especially for ‘deep-field’ deployments
  • Strengthen systems on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse

“The Government of South Sudan, together with the humanitarian sector, must work collaboratively to address barriers identified in this report to level the precarious situation that women seeking to effectively participate in the humanitarian WASH sector continue to face. Failure to do so may reinforce existing gender inequality, additionally, heightening vulnerability to and risks of gender-based violence,” said IOM South Sudan Chief of Mission, Jean-Philippe Chauzy.

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