Water Champion

Water Champions initiate or implement water reforms in their chosen field, and are directly involved in improving the water situation in their respective countries.

Lal Premanath: Mainstreaming Gender in ADB Water Projects
September 2004

By Maria Christina Dueñas Knowledge Management Officer ABOUT THE CHAMPION
Mr. Lal Premanath is the Project Director of ADB's Third Water Supply & Sanitation (Sector) Project (TWSSP) and the Additional General Manager for ADB Projects in the Water Sector in Sri Lanka. He also works with the country's National Water, Sanitation, and Drainage Board (NWSDB). Mr. Premanath is a champion of gender issues in his government. Under his management, the TWSSP has started mainstreaming some gender considerations in its operations.
3 rd Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project Project Brief

Currently, only about 70% of the people in Sri Lanka have access to safe water, and 64% to sanitation facilities. Those without access to safe water supply rely on untreated water from unprotected shallow wells, and streams or ponds, most of which are potential sources of diseases. Wastewater collection and disposal systems are not widely available, leaving people to use local drains or watercourses instead. The Government of Sri Lanka recognizes the importance of providing safe drinking water and sanitation for the people, and allocates 5% of its annual development budget for this. But much help is needed to ensure full water supply and sanitation coverage by 2025, the government's target date. The ADB 3rd Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project aims to: Provide communities in 6 districts with improved access to safe water Improve the environment in the project area through sustainable sanitation systems Improve public awareness of hygiene and sanitation as well as people's participation in sustainable water management Introduce policy reforms, including private sector participation, to promote efficient and equitable use of water The project covers the districts of Anuradhapura, Hambantota, Kalutara, Kegalle, Monagarala and Puttalam, and the town of Anuradhapura. It will provide improved piped water supply schemes for about 80,000 households, rain water systems tubewells and dug wells for about 100,000 households, and latrines for about 87,000 households. The project provides the capacity building support to the sector activities namely: Community Based Organizations (CBOs), Local Authorities, Provincial Councils & NWSDB. It will also introduce institutional and policy reforms in the sector, particularly within the NWSDB. The project began in 1999 and is expected to be completed in June 2005.

How would you characterize the status of women in Sri Lanka's development? In Sri Lanka, women have contributed a lot in development and politics. We have the distinction of having the first woman prime minister in the world, Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. We also have a Ministry of Womens' Affairs, which we later improved and transformed into the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Social Welfare. Women in Sri Lanka have made great efforts to gain equal footing in society. But we cannot deny that they still have low economic participation, they constantly face social discrimination, and they are subject to gender-based violence. In short, there's a big room for improvement in their situation. What do you think are the country's main challenges in mainstreaming gender considerations in water projects? The lack of women with appropriate professional qualifications is a barrier. When we were implementing the ADB Secondary Towns and Rural Community Based Water Supply & Sanitation Project, we tried recruiting women staff to ensure at least 25% participation of the women in

the project. This was achieved with great difficulty as the number of professionally qualified women was much less than the men. It also doesn't help that our own Ministry of Women Empowerment and Social Welfare is in need of capacity buildup. We had to acknowledge this fact when, while implementing the same project, the Ministry couldn't provide the facilitating and technical support that we requested from it. Finally, I believe that many still do not understand and accept the importance of gender considerations in projects.

What needs to be done to address these concerns? The government needs to strengthen the Ministry of Empowerment and Social Welfare, to provide training and other capacity building interventions for its staff. To build understanding on the importance of gender involvement, projects like ours need to give more awareness programs and disseminate satisfactory outputs when gender is mainstreamed. Speaking of awareness, it is also important that gender involvement in development be included in the school curricula. How does your project, the TWSSP, mainstream gender considerations in your operations? The main objective of this ADB project is to improve the health and well being of approximately 1 million people living in rural areas in Sri Lanka through improvement of water supply and sanitation facilities. We knew that to sustain the facilities constructed, we had to ensure the participation of users in decision-making, and most of these users were women. As such, we have been championing this cause since we started the project in 1999. In the 1970s, we undertook water supply and sanitation projects without involving the community. But in the 80s and 90s, we enabled the communities to play the central role in decision-making. Taking things further in this project, we ensured that the community-based organizations (CBOs) and working committees playing the central role in decision-making consist of at least 50% women. These women have decision-making authorities within their organizations, which they religiously exercise, and the men both accept and respect these authorities. What specific practices or innovations has the project undertaken to promote gender and development? In addition to maintaining a minimum of 50% women membership in CBOs and the working committees, we also made women and children the focal point of hygiene education. We also ensured that we give equal salaries for male and female involvement. In the computation of labor inputs, we did not deduct from labor contributions of women. Finally, when choosing from among technology options, we insisted on over 50% concurrence by the women.

Do you have an anecdote from working in this project that gives you a glimpse of the impact you and the project are making? The experience of managing this project has been very thrilling and fulfilling. When I visited a village in the Puttalam District, one of the districts covered by the project, I was happy to note that 70% of the villagers gathered at the meeting were women. The village Secretary and the Treasurer were also women. And what's more important, the women in the village were very vocal and articulate about their questions. Their questions were also very good, especially on financial and administrative matters, showing us how active their involvement in the project really was.

_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in September 2004: http://www.adb.org/Water/Champions/premanath.asp. The Water Champions series was developed to showcase individual leadership and initiative in implementing water sector reforms and good practices in Asia and the Pacific. The champions, representing ADB’s developing member countries, are directly involved in improving the water situation in their respective countries or communities. The series is regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.