Safe Water Network (SWN), in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), today, released a report on the success of their Sustainable Enterprises for Water and Health initiative (SEWAH), which promotes women’s participation in water-related decision-making and increases access to jobs in water and sanitation.
In India, women and men traditionally have different roles and responsibilities within households, markets, schools, and their communities. This leads to differences in the way they access and use water, sanitation, and hygiene services. SWN has developed a model to operate water kiosks (aka, Water ATMs) as viable, profit-earning enterprises that provide safe drinking water to underserved communities at affordable prices. These water kiosks are owned and operated by a range of entrepreneurs including community groups, corporations, and individuals, including women. The program currently operates in 12 states across India, covering 30 cities.
In March 2023, SWN undertook an assessment in 21 cities across India and interviewed more than 6000 people (65% of whom were women) to understand the impact of the SEWAH activity in areas where these Water ATMs/kiosks are operating. The key findings of the report titled ‘Rethinking Gender Equality through the Lens of Economic Empowerment in Water’ include:
To date, SEWAH has successfully trained and facilitated over 150 women to become water entrepreneurs running their own Safe Water Enterprise (SWEs), and around 550 women to become water ATM operators. These women water entrepreneurs earn an average of $80-$100/month, while SWE operators earn $50-$70/month.
SEWAH has also mobilized many more women to work as community mobilizers for these Water ATMs, taking charge of their own health, and the health of their families and communities. Known in their communities as ‘Water Aunties’, these women independently manage water stations, ensuring continuous availability of water to the community members while fostering gender equality.
As a result of improved access to water for drinking and cooking, 70% of beneficiary women surveyed shared that they are now able to engage in economic activities.
Women also reported a 3-5% reduction in monthly medical expenses attributed to waterborne diseases.
More and more women are now taking charge of their own health, and the health of their families and communities.
Safe Water Network India, Vice President – Program and Partnerships Poonam Sewak said, “Women’s economic empowerment as Safe Water Enterprise entrepreneurs or operators has significantly transformed their lives and enhanced equitable and inclusive safe water for all. The Water Aunties program includes women across the SWE value chain, putting money in the hands of the women and supporting the girl child to go to school rather than walking miles to collect water on their heads. It is essential to make small investments to address gender barriers and create a skilled women workforce in safe water by providing training, mentorship, and networking opportunities.”
USAID Acting Mission Director Karen Klimowski said, “At USAID, we believe access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities is essential to ensure gender equality and economic progress. As we design WASH programs, we must all work to ensure the voices of the most vulnerable and disproportionately affected, such as women, are front and center. It is their experience that should guide us in formulating the most effective, and most equitable solutions. USAID is proud to mobilize and support women’s participation at a local level in the decision-making process to plan, design, construct, and run these water kiosks and community initiatives, which are ensuring safe drinking water for all while generating economic opportunities for women.”
In the last three years, USAID and SWN have also convened SWE practitioners and water sector stakeholders under the SWE Alliance. They have demonstrated and replicated pilots in collaboration with urban local bodies and the private sector, provided evidence-based policy recommendations and model documents to the government, and established a virtual Center of Excellence to share knowledge and best practices for scaling up affordable, safe water solutions to enhance public health, with local women playing a central role in the program.
The SEWAH Partners
Safe Water Network: We envision a world with healthy, thriving communities that sustainably manage their safe water. Founded in 2006 by the late actor and philanthropist Paul Newman and a group of civic leaders in New York, Safe Water Network works to ensure that millions of people in underserved communities around the world have access to safe water by leveraging a three-pronged approach i) Field Implementation: We collaborate with communities to develop sustainable solutions to improve and expand access to safe water; ii) Technical Assistance: We strengthen and build capacity with implementers and other stakeholders to improve performance and replicate sustainable, safe water solutions; and iii) Sector Engagement: We drive global collaboration and advocacy across the worldwide water ecosystem to reduce sector fragmentation and enable the scale-up of decentralized, market-based water supply. Safe Water Network’s programs offer culturally, socially, and economically sustainable solutions to provide access to safe water, one of the world’s most urgent and complex challenges. Safe Water Network has operations in India and Ghana and provides direct access to 1.7 million people and indirectly impacts more than 25 million people. To learn more, visit www.safewaternetwork.org.
United States Agency for International Development (USAID): USAID, an agency of the United States government, is the world’s premier international development agency and a catalytic actor driving development results. USAID works to help lift lives, build communities, advance democracy, and champions the cause of women’s empowerment across the globe. USAID’s work advances U.S. national security and economic prosperity; demonstrates American generosity; and helps countries progress along their development journey. In India, USAID is collaborating with the country’s growing human and financial resources through partnerships that catalyze innovation and entrepreneurship to solve critical local and global development challenges. To learn more, visit www.usaid.gov/india.