Water User Committees: an inclusive impact model in India

Water User Committees: an inclusive impact model in India

Water User Committees: an inclusive impact model in India 2560 1923 Agenda for Change

Providing safe access to water and sanitation facilities is a social and demographic imperative and a key driver for gender justice.


A woman walks with a water vessel in India. (Water For People, India)

By Payyazhi Jayashree, Vice President, Water for People India Trust Board

This blog is an overview of an article from Water For People India – see the complete article here.

UN World Water Development Report 2021 [1], with the theme of ‘Valuing Water,’ noted that one of the reasons for mismanagement of water is a failure to recognize the variant value of water and lack of involvement of multiple actors in decisions related to water usage.

There is substantial evidence to indicate that lack of access to safe water and sanitation facilities disproportionately affects girls and women. First, women and girls continue to have the bulk of care responsibilities, including managing the water supply and water usage, as per household needs. Second, lack of access to water facilities requires young girls and women to travel long distances to access water for household needs, which precludes them from sustainable participation in education or any form of sustainable employment. Third, as per SDG Report 2021, violence against women continues to be at unacceptably high levels, with nearly one in three women (736 million) subjected to some form of violence. As per evidence from India, lack of access to toilets at home doubles the risk of sexual violence for women compared to those who have access to toilet facilities (Jadhav et al., 2016)[2]. Fourth, lack of access to safe water and hygiene facilities at school leads girls to quit school as soon as they reach puberty, precluding them from vital learning experiences crucial for their long-term human capital development and economic and emotional emancipation.

Given this debilitating impact on women due to lack of access to water and sanitation facilities, their involvement and voice in water resource management are a global imperative to arrive at gender-just policies and resource allocations (Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021 [3]). UN-Water 2021 reports that ‘fewer than 50 countries have laws or policies that specifically mention women’s participation for rural sanitation or water resources management’. Further, a recent report from Global Water Partnership and UNEP-DHI, 2021[4], provides evidence that the inclusion of women, particularly as equal partners in water resource management, is in its nascent stages, with the compartmentalized and ad-hoc approaches failing to impact policy and practice significantly.

Water for People India: Everyone Forever Model

Water for People (WFP) India’s Everyone Forever Model has inclusivity at its core. Specifically, the impact model takes a holistic and` multi-stakeholder approach to strengthen the Water, Sanitation, and Health (WASH) ecosystem for sustainable and scalable impact. Since beginning its operations in 1996, WFP India’s WASH solutions have positively impacted more than one million people in India by collaborating with relevant partners in the public and private sectors and NGOs, among others. In particular, WFP India’s extant WASH initiatives across key blocks in West Bengal, Bihar, and Maharashtra are implemented in alignment with India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (2014) and Jal Jivan Mission (2019)[5] mandate for a bottom-up approach to sustainable change.

Water User Committees (WUC): A community-based approach to water governance and water resource management

The WFP India WUCs are built on a community-based approach to change, with one WUC for each water point. WUCs generally comprise seven to fifteen members from the specific households that use the water point. Three office bearers are elected for a term by the WUC from within the community.

Women as agentic changemakers

WFP India has formed eighty-three WUCs since 2019 in the Birbhum District of West Bengal, comprising 931 members. 482 members out of the 931 are women (53% of the WUCs). Further, 25 WUCs have more than 60% female representation, and 11 WUCs currently have more than 70% female representation, with some WUCs being fully comprised of, and led by, women.

The bottom-up change model of the WUCs is built on the paradigm of opportunity creation for exercising leadership amongst women and enabling the same through continuous capacity building across a range of functions. Evidence from the field indicates an increased sense of ownership and commitment amongst these women, transforming them from powerless recipients to agentic designers of change within their homes and communities.

SK Sahanaz, a local panchayat member from Hajratpur Panchayat, remarks, ‘There has been a change among people of Kalyanpur Adivasipara,’ ‘(they) have voiced their needs for the first time in last Gram Sabha. In January 2020, WFP provided a water point and formed and trained a WUC. The motivated members of the newly formed WUC were instrumental in sharing their needs for a water connection in the Gram Sabha, which was duly acknowledged, and in October 2020, a community tap connection was provided.’

Evidence from another constituency (Khoyrasol) indicates that a total of eighteen (18) WUCs have taken action in the past six months alone to improve the water supply. Further, five WUCs in Rajnagar reported an improvement in water supply since they were constituted, all having levied token tariffs.

The holistic impact on water resource management is also evident as per feedback from WFP India partners on the ground, who note that the WUCs meet two conditions for improved water resource management. The first is through the collection of water tariffs from the beneficiaries (local villagers) to cover the cost of operation and maintenance, thereby developing a sense of ownership and greater efficiency and accountability towards the assets installed in their locality. The second is increased participation in decision-making, leading to more sustainable water usage and more equitable sharing of benefits, contributing to the overall well-being and resilience of the communities involved, with women at the heart of this transformation.


Since women are disproportionately affected by lack of access to WASH facilities, their involvement in key decisions related to water resource management is necessary for achieving gender justice in water usage. WUC committees are an impactful strategy for gender mainstreaming water resource management, with long-term implications for achieving SDG#5 and SDG#6.5.1 goals. WUC provides opportunities for agency creation through education and skill-building, which then acts as a conduit for their engaged participation at the community level, with direct and indirect impacts on their continued empowerment. In addition, empowered women who understand the significance of WASH will accelerate behavioral change at home and in their communities, thereby creating a multiplier effect for the continued achievement of gender parity across the various interrelated SDGs.

[1] UN Water Report, 2021. Available  url: https://www.unwater.org/publications/un-world-water-development-report-2021/. Accessed 01-06-2022
[2] Jadhav, A., Weitzman, A. & Smith-Greenaway, E. Household Sanitation facilities and women’s risk on non-partner sexual violence in India. BMC Public Health, 16, 1139. Cited in https://www.waterforpeople.org/women-and-girls/. Accessed 02-03-2022
[3] SDG Report, 2021. Available url: https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2021/The-Sustainable-Development-Goals-Report-2021.pdf. Accessed 02-06-2022
[4] Global Water Partnership and UNEP-DHI, 2021. Advancing towards gender mainstreaming in water resources management. Available, url: https://www.gwp.org/globalassets/global/activities/act-on-sdg6/advancing-towards-gender-maintreaming-in-wrm—report.pdf, Accessed 01-03-2022.
[5] Jal Jivan Mission (2019). Available at url: https://jaljeevanmission.gov.in/. Accessed 03-03-2022

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