International Women’s Day is a collective day of global celebration, as well as a call for gender parity. It is about marking the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women worldwide and pledging to take concrete steps towards achieving greater gender equality: by calling for gender-balanced leadership, developing more inclusive, flexible communities and eliminating workplace biases.

Women and girls face multiple barriers to equality and attainment. The cost of education, distance to school, gender norms, poverty and early marriage often stop girls from getting an education and realising their potential – and so can a lack of access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene services.

Women and children spend 125 million hours each day globally collecting water and typically bear the primary responsibility for water collection. Women and girls living without a toilet spend 266 million hours each day globally finding a place to relieve themselves. All those hours are spent not working, caring for family members or attending schools – hours spent not fulfilling their potential.

Our approach emphasises planning to achieve sustainable change at scale. We demonstrate financially viable approaches to serving low-income areas and empower service providers to deliver effective long-term services. WSUP works closely with local service providers to implement a gender mainstreaming approach in all of its programmes – we want to make sure that women and girls really benefit from improved water, sanitation and hygiene services. Evidence suggests that involving women in water projects can increase their effectiveness up to seven times – WSUP’s gender-inclusive approach aims to realise this potential.

In Madagascar, we’ve been working closely with the local water utility in Antananarivo, JIRAMA, to build water kiosks and laundry blocks, involving women at every stage. Encouraging women to work as plumbers, masons and painters during construction projects, WSUP has also helped to create Water User Associations (WUAs), creating a platform for women to participate in and contribute to managing their community’s WASH facilities. Women work as water kiosk vendors and laundry block operators and have also benefited from other micro-enterprise opportunities: they deliver a water collection service to households and local businesses, provide community laundry services and sell tea, coffee and groceries at the water kiosks.

WSUP’s support has also helped pilot a Village Saving Loan Associations system, in which community members pool their savings and provide credit to others; the pilot has led not only to an increase in savings but also to the creation of an ecosystem of microenterprises. Skills training is helping to develop women’s aptitude for business management, social marketing, negotiation and more and is creating sustainable livelihood opportunities.

For women like Monica Lydia Domohinaniaina, who lives in the Anjanatsimiova neighbourhood in the Atsimondrano district of Antananarivo, the water kiosks have made a huge difference. Monica used to buy expensive cans of water and struggled to get all the water she needed for her family. Now, she says “I can collect water whenever my family needs it. The water kiosk is open all day … and I have more time to take care of my family.”

On this year’s International Women’s Day, WSUP’s #PledgeforParity is to continue to prioritise gender in its programmes activities, making sure that the water, sanitation and hygiene services we deliver serve the needs of both men and women. WSUP has seen in its programmes that improving WASH can make a tangible difference to women’s lives, empowering them to change their communities and access opportunities to realise their potential.