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Advancing evaluation of gender and social equality outcomes in WASH

SEI researchers synthesized research about gender and social equality outcomes of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions, equipping policymakers and practitioners with evidence for effective mainstreaming of gender and social equality in WASH interventions.

This project employed mixed-method systematic review methodology to produce unbiased and reliable synthesis. The review scope is co-designed with stakeholders ensuring relevance of findings for WASH policy and practice.

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Photo: Nancy Brown / Getty Images.

About the project

Promoting gender and social equality (GSE) is a vital element of any sustainability strategy because stark disparities between people undermine the effectiveness of development work.

Poor water and sanitation disproportionately impact women and girls due to the traditional gender roles and norms and because of certain biological factors. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions are often complex and comprise multiple components, including water supply, hygiene education, construction of toilets and handwashing stations, sometimes integrated with nutrition components.

WASH interventions often promise to improve gender and social equality by reducing women and girls’ domestic workload and freeing up time for educational and other livelihood opportunities. While this may be true, evaluation practice in the WASH sector tends to concentrate on public health outcomes. In fact, most of the existing evidence synthesis on this subject does not explicitly focus on gender, education or other social outcomes.

Globally, interest in improving and promoting equality and inclusion is growing. However, this interest has not completely translated into explicit attention to evaluate gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) outcomes in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and existing reviews largely focus on health outcomes.

This project aims to bridge this gap by mapping and synthesizing the evidence on the gender and social equality outcomes in complex WASH interventions.

Specifically, the research team aims to answer the following questions:

  • What is the impact of complex WASH interventions on gender and social equality outcomes in low- and middle-income countries?
  • What are barriers to or facilitators of change in these outcomes?
  • What are the knowledge gaps within this subject?
  • What are the methodological deficiencies and the best practices in relevant primary research?

The project helped to conceptualize gender and social equality outcomes in WASH and supported the development of tools for accurate measurement and evaluation of gender and social equality outcomes. This project further emphasized ways that WASH interventions can lead to transformative outcomes, which is an increasing area of focus in global healthAs a result, the project findings will equip policymakers and practitioners with evidence for effective mainstreaming of gender and social equality in WASH interventions.

Stakeholder engagement and co-design process

To take into account policy, research and practice needs and priorities as well as to increase potential policy uptake of review findings, international stakeholders (including representatives from academia, funding agencies and non-governmental organisations working in WASH implementation) were engaged throughout the review process. Two workshops were organized in May and June 2020, and the review planning document (a systematic review protocol) was opened for inputs from the general public, practitioners, researchers and other stakeholders between 16 July and 3 August 2020. Learn more about the inputs received and information on how they were addressed.

Together with the stakeholders, we co-created a theory of change that facilitated review scope definition and later led our metadata coding exercise. Moreover, stakeholders were shown preliminary review findings during a dedicated event at World Water Week in Stockholm (August 2021) and asked for input on the clarity and relevance of the findings.


This project is supported by the Centre of Excellence for Development Impact and Learning (CEDIL).


Comprehensive evidence base on GESI outcomes of WASH interventions in low resource settings

The project conducted a large systematic map of scientific evidence on gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) outcomes of WASH interventions implemented in low resource settings and published between 2010-2020. The output is one of the most comprehensive evidence compilations on the subject. Future research can use the evidence base collated in the map to determine which WASH interventions work as intended for GESI outcomes. This will help to fully realise the potential returns of WASH investments and better equip us to challenge harmful gender norms and power relations that hold societies back from achieving gender equality and other forms of social inclusion.

Are you interested in learning more about studies included in our systematic map? Download the full dataset or explore our Evidence Atlas below.

Evidence Atlas

How to use the atlas

The evidence atlas is an interactive searchable tool that shows the locations of the studies included in the systematic map database along with extracted meta-data. (Learn more about the tool).

The evidence atlas above shows locations of studies included in the systematic map on GESI outcomes of WASH interventions. Click on a grey or red dot to view publication details, information about study design and context, studied GESI outcomes and types of WASH interventions, as well as a link to the publication on Google Scholar. Different colours represent studied interventions with (red) and without (grey) GESI mainstreaming components.

Policy recommendations

We prepared a list of recommendations for actors in WASH policy and practice, based on insights from scientific publications aggregated in our systematic map. Learn more in the policy brief below.



Biljana Macura
Biljana Macura

Senior Research Fellow and Team Lead

SEI Headquarters

Laura Del Duca
Laura Del Duca

Policy Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Adriana Soto
Adriana Soto Trujillo

Research Associate

SEI Headquarters

George Njoroge is a Research Fellow at SEI Africa.
George Njoroge

Research Fellow

SEI Africa

Brenda Ochola
Brenda Ochola

Communications and Impact Officer


SEI Headquarters

Carla Liera
Carla Liera

Research Associate

SEI Headquarters

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