Successes, challenges, and support for men versus women implementers in water, sanitation, and hygiene programs: A qualitative study in rural Nepal

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2021 Jul;236:113792. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2021.113792. Epub 2021 Jun 15.


Introduction: Women's active participation is important for inclusive water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH) programs, yet gender roles that limit women's access to formal education and employment may reduce their skills, experience, and capacity for implementation. This paper explores differences between men and women implementers of rural WaSH programs in implementation approaches, challenges, and sources of support for implementation, and success in achieving program quality outcomes.

Methods: We interviewed 18 men and 13 women in community-based implementation roles in four districts of Nepal. We identified challenges and sources of support for implementation in four domains-informational, tangible, emotional, or companionship-following social support theory. We assessed successes at achieving intermediate implementation outcomes (e.g., adoption, appropriateness, sustainability) and long-term intervention outcomes (e.g., community cleanliness, health improvements).

Results: Women used relational approaches and leveraged social ties to encourage behavior change, while men used formative research to identify behavior drivers and sanctions to drive behavior change. Women experienced stigma for working outside the home, which was perceived as a traditionally male role. Companionship and emotional support from other women and male community leaders helped mitigate stigma and lack of informational support. Women were also more likely to receive no or low financial compensation for work and had fewer opportunities for feedback and training compared to men. Despite lack of support, women were motivated to work by a desire to build their social status, gain new knowledge, and break conventional gender roles.

Conclusions: Both men and women perceived that women were more effective than men at mobilizing widespread, sustained WaSH improvements, which was attributed to their successes using relational approaches and leveraging social ties to deliver acceptable and appropriate messages. Their skills for motivating collective action indicate that they can be highly effective WaSH implementers despite lack of technical experience and training, and that women's active participation is important for achieving transformative community change.

Keywords: Gender; Hygiene; Implementation science; Sanitation; Social support; WaSH; Water.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hygiene
  • Male
  • Nepal
  • Rural Population
  • Sanitation*
  • Water*


  • Water