The Secondary Towns and Rural Community-Based Water Supply and Sanitation Project aims to reduce poverty and promote human development by improving access to safe water and sanitation for poor populations in both urban and rural areas.
In Sri Lanka, women are assumed to be the main beneficiaries of projects improving the supply of water and management of sanitation.
Women are "traditionally responsible for cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the family and are highly affected by problems associated with water supply…" During dry periods, women have to manage limited resources between household needs and for gardens surrounding their houses. Produce from gardens is an important contribution to food security. Women in the project communities complained that they would have to share water available with other households or walk great distances to find alternative sources.
Reducing the time women spend fetching water, the burden of carrying heavy loads, and the time spent taking care of children suffering from waterborne diseases are further anticipated benefits. For these benefits to be maximized, women should be actively engaged in decision making as the "providers, users, and managers of water at the household level."
Development Aims and Impacts:
Improved access to safe water and sanitation through a process that actively involves women as well as men and can promote human development as well as poverty reduction is the main aim of the project.
Social mobilization is structured to develop active male and female community-based organizations (CBOs) within each village, through which leadership and other skills can be developed for both women and men in separate groups. Within groups, needs and options were debated and decisions brought to a village-wide executive body where investments in new infrastructure that directly met their needs were effectively planned and construction managed within the community. Government officers can now facilitate the delivery of programs and services through these groups in response to their specific needs beyond the scope of the project.
Women have built on skills provided through social mobilization and other project activities to access wider benefits beyond water and sanitation investments, e.g., income generation, and ongoing active engagement in community improvement planning and implementation.
ADB Process and Management Tools:
Special measures were taken to ensure women’s participation in community-driven planning and decision making. Established targets for women's participation in CBOs were closely monitored and any variation in anticipated gender balance was followed up by implementing nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and project implementation unit staff.
The project's structure of CBOs (male and female) selecting leading members to sit on apex village decision-making executive committee encouraged the emergence of a new layer of community decision makers that includes women.
A gender action plan (GAP) was included in project design with training provided by the ADB resident mission gender specialist to elaborate the GAP components during early implementation. This provided impetus for strong commitment to achieving gender-related targets. The commitment was evidenced by the high percentage of women staff in project teams, implementing partner NGOs (IP-NGOs) selected with proven gender experience, and the requirement that IPNGOs reside within communities to ensure a strong understanding of the social context framing gender issues within each community.
This case study is part of an ADB publication titled Gender Equality Results Case Studies: Sri Lanka containing case studies that provide an overview of gender issues in selected sectors.