While the benefits of and barriers to women’s participation and leadership have been reported on, there is limited understanding of the role of empowerment in addressing these challenges. To help bridge this knowledge gap, the authors used a household survey to measure men and women’s empowerment in water and sanitation in the rural Tupiza watershed, Bolivia, and key informant interviews with women leaders to identify barriers to leadership.
Overall, among survey respondents, fewer men than women were disempowered. Community-level factors, especially those related to comfort in speaking in community meetings and reporting service problems, contributed more to women’s disempowerment, as did household-level factors related to work balance and input into decisions about who participates in community water and sanitation activities.
Among interviewed community water leaders, many women felt their positions were costly to their households and reported challenges in obtaining technical training and local government assistance, which not only disempowered them as leaders but also was likely tied to poor service delivery and related health outcomes in their communities. The authors discuss the implications of their findings for rural Bolivia and future research opportunities.
- This study is one of the first to assess the relationship between women’s empowerment and participation in community-managed water and sanitation.
- The authors measured men’s and women’s empowerment in water and sanitation and examined the associated barriers to women’s successful participation and leadership in rural Bolivia with mixed methods.
- Women’s discomfort in speaking in community meetings and reporting service problems contributed more to their disempowerment than to men’s.
- Women leaders’ disempowerment was related to their domestic workloads and challenges in obtaining technical training and local government assistance.
- By focusing on barriers linked to women’s disempowerment, the authors highlighted the central role of empowerment in improving participation and identified barriers that matter most for gender, water, and sanitation goals.