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The Value of WASH Jobs for Rural Women in Cambodia

2019 Women’s Economic Empowerment Research Presentations at UNC Water & Health Conference and MEDS (Cambodia)

When WaterSHED began engaging in sanitation marketing activities in 2009 across eight provinces in rural Cambodia, our teams noticed that women were not participating in WASH markets at the same rate as men.  In a country where 65% of businesses are female-owned[1], where was this entrepreneurial drive in rural WASH markets?

WaterSHED’s subsequent research concluded that, although our market interventions provided scope for women’s economic engagement, there were gender-specific challenges hindering women’s access to starting and growing a latrine hardware businesses, as well as profitably selling WASH products and services in their communities.

In 2016, with support from the inaugural Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s ‘Women & Girls at the Center of Development’ Grand Challenge, WaterSHED addressed these challenges through our WEwork Collective. The WEwork Collective was a multi-faceted and contextually appropriate program that encouraged women to succeed in WASH markets in rural Cambodia. While this approach generated interest in WASH income-generating activities (IGAs), it proved challenging to convert that interest into entrance, retention, and satisfaction in the WASH market.

To explore this pattern further, WaterSHED focused new research on targeting and recruitment of better-fit profiles for rural women more likely to succeed in WASH markets.

So who is an ideal candidate for a WASH IGA? Counter to the expectation that WASH entrepreneurs and sales agents need to be risk-taking and highly mobile, our findings suggest that WASH jobs provide women with the flexibility and personal freedom needed to balance an IGA with traditional responsibilities at home.

These findings suggest that WASH jobs may be better marketed as a viable solution for women with limited options, women who are dissatisfied with their work, or women who need to balance housework and income generation. 

To learn more about these findings check out our reports presented by our team, Sovattha and Allison:

2019 UNC WEwork research poster

2019 MEDS Convening (Cambodia) WEwork presentation

[1] Asian Development Bank, 2015. Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment in Cambodia.