Introducing the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene – Gender Equality Measure

Globally, women and girls often bear the responsibilities for WASH, including water collection, cleaning, cooking, and childcare. And consequently, poor WASH disproportionately affects women and girls.

Over the last ten years, researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Futures-University of Technology Sydney (ISF-UTS) have been exploring the connections between gender and WASH. Qualitative evidence has shown that transformed gender dynamics are fundamental to inclusive and sustained WASH improvements. Likewise, that improvements in WASH can be a pathway to strengthened gender equality.

Building on this qualitative evidence, a team at ISF-UTS recently developed a tool to explore the connections between gender equality and WASH. This tool is called the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Gender Equality Measure – the WASH-GEM. The WASH-GEM can describe these connections and evaluate changes over time.

The WASH-GEM was developed and piloted in 2019-2021 with iDE in Cambodia and SNV in Nepal, within the DFAT Water for Women Fund. The conceptual model for the WASH-GEM was developed through a collaborative process. It was informed by a review of relevant literature and through engagement with practitioners and specialists in the fields of gender, WASH, and international development. The tool has been tested and refined through three rounds of collaborative piloting in both countries.


The WASH-GEM builds on a solid foundation of gender equality theory and practice and is comprised of five domains – Resources, Agency, Critical Consciousness, Structures, and Wellbeing. The WASH-GEM includes 17 themes across the five domains, covering aspects of WASH-related and beyond-WASH sub-domains. Themes are added together within each domain to create a group of five indices.

The WASH-GEM is one amongst a range of tools in the WASH sector to explore the connections between gender and WASH. However, there are several unique aspects to the WASH-GEM.

  • The WASH-GEM focuses on gender equality, not only on women’s empowerment. The WASH-GEM builds on the premise that improvements in WASH require social transformations towards gender equality. These transformations address gender dynamics with both women and men while rebuilding the social structures perpetuating inequalities. Women’s empowerment is one step in this process, but is not the only step.
  • The WASH-GEM samples dyads to better understand gender dynamics by capturing both women and men’s perspectives and experiences. A dyad is most often a married couple from the same household.
  • The WASH-GEM is specifically designed to examine the connections between improvements in WASH and improvements in gender equality. It is beneficial when investigating the extent to which an intended gender-transformative component of a WASH program has been effective.

In the coming months, the WASH-GEM (version 2.0) will be rolled out in six countries alongside an e-learning tool for program evaluators. This process will continue to refine the tool and to strengthen the global evidence base for the connections between gender equality and WASH.