Gender Equality – Let’s Talk Accountability

In our series of inter-regional discussions on gender equality and social inclusion, GWP’s Liza Debevec invited GWP South Asia’s Lal Induruwage, and Ashish Barua of the Swiss development organisation Helvetas, to talk about meaningful and inclusive participation in decision-making and partnerships. This is something both their countries – Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – have made great progress on in policies. However, they both agree that gaps still exist between policies and reality on the ground. One of the big challenges is lack of accountability.

In the past months, GWP Senior Gender and Social Inclusion Specialist Liza Debevec investigated Action Area 1 and Action Area 2 of the GWP Gender Action Piece, to find out what GWP as an institution can do to apply gender equality and social inclusion in its work. Coming to Action Area 3, this states that participation and partnerships are key principles of the Sustainable Development Goals, and that women and marginalised people need to be meaningfully involved in the decision-making processes to achieve gender equality and social inclusion.

The recently completed Water ChangeMaker Awards brought forward change journeys that show good examples of how teams or organisations, through smart solutions and active participation, can achieve changes in mindsets and policies to build climate resilience. Mobilising women was one of the key elements highlighted in many of the change journeys. Development organisation and GWP Partner Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation supported the Mothers Parliament initiative in southwest coastal Bangladesh after being asked to help investigate the challenge that women in the region face when it comes to climate resilience and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities. The initiative won the People’s Choice Award in the competition.

Ashish Barua, a Helvetas Programme Manager based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, explains why the Mothers Parliament was a good fit for his organisation: “Helvetas’ ambition is for a just society – the keyword is “just”– which highlights the existence of injustice. We experience injustice everywhere, and we experience gender injustice every day. So, in all our programmes, both globally and at country level, we put gender equality at the centre.”

The 2020 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report ranked Bangladesh at the top among South Asian countries for its achievements towards gender parity, and Barua says this is brilliant: “If we look at the women-men power balance in different sectors, it is advancing, and we’re very happy about that. But, if we really look into the issue, when we investigate the inside – the interpretation at root level – of how gender equality is being implemented, there is still a strong patriarchy.”

Comparing experiences

Lal Induruwage, Regional Coordinator for GWP South Asia, compares the situation in Sri Lanka, which he says is doing well when it comes to gender equality in policies: “Children, both boys and girls, get free education up to graduate level; they get free books, shoes, and in some schools also free meals. This may be the main reason to why they have an equal learning opportunity, and why equality exists in Sri Lanka.”

But he agrees with Barua that there are still disparities in Sri Lanka and elsewhere: “In Bhutan, they have similar gender policies to us, but still there are disparities in rural areas like in other countries in the region. The GWP Country Water Partnerships (CWPs) have done a lot to educate community leaders. India has introduced efforts to change the disparity and they have many programmes and NGOs helping. India Water Partnership (IWP) is one of these – they have done a lot of work, such as capacity building programmes for young people in some of the river basins. In Sri Lanka, through Sri Lanka Water Partnership, we also work in the gender space, like supporting women in the estate sector, where they are sometimes marginalised. In Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Water Women Network collaborates with GWP Bangladesh, and they have both youth and gender enhancement programmes. GWP Nepal has also done a lot of work on this issue.”

Still, both Barua and Induruwage mention the gaps between existing governmental policies and the reality on the ground. What can be done to change this?

“We need to change the attitude of the people in the local communities. Because if we don’t change the attitude towards women, women will always be in the back seat. This is the case in most of the countries. We need good capacity building and awareness programmes for the local leaders at the rural level, to inform them that if they improve women participation, they will improve all final outcomes. There’s a lot of research available to prove this,” says Induruwage.

What does participation mean?

Barua brings up the word participation, which he says we need to reflect on: “What does this word mean? To me, participation means decision-making. Simply, if there is no decision-making, there is no participation. So, we need to look at the issue that way. I think the people who are most affected by something should be the ones who participate the most and are involved in the decision-making process.”

And he points the finger to the practitioners, “we need to look to ourselves”, he says: “Participation is not a new word, neither is decision-making. We have been using these words for a long time – in plans, proposals, programmes, reporting, etc. They are overused. But how much are we really accountable to ourselves? How much do we apply this on the ground and follow it in implementation? Have we ever asked ourselves this, and challenged ourselves? Are we accountable to our commitments? Probably there is a gap. We may be accountable to the government or donors, but we’re not accountable to the community.”

This is where we need to take action, he says: “I think that probably now is the right time to talk about brave accountability. This means not only being accountable for our own actions, but also to hold others accountable for injustice.”

Covering the 4th and last Action Area, Liza Debevec will talk to experts in other GWP regions about equal access to and control of resources. For more information on any of this, you are welcome to reach out to her at

Top photo (from the left): Liza Debevec, Ashish Barua, and Lal Induruwage.