Women Building a Water Movement in East Africa

The GWWI East Africa Women and Water Training supported 50 African women leaders from three East African countries—Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania—to learn and implement solutions to issues of water and sanitation.

The GWWI East African Women and Water Training in Uganda launched in 2011, hosted in partnership with ICON Partners and Associates. This holistic training program gathered participants from East Africa to strengthen their skills in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) education, appropriate water technology, action planning, and climate change mitigation.

50 grassroots women leaders from Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya learned to build two different kinds of toilets so they can help protect local water from getting contaminated. They also learned to makes soap, shampoo, reusable sanitary pads and digesters, an enzymatic powder that breaks down solid waste to clear out and rejuvenate pit latrines! They have gone on to start small micro-businesses selling these household products while promoting good hygiene.

The Global Women’s Water Initiative was co-founded by three organizations: A Single Drop, Crabgrass and WEA. The GWWI collaborators came together to address the lack of women’s leadership in the WASH sector, despite women’s central role as water stewards. We hosted our first training in 2008 at Green Belt Movement with the support of Nobel Peace Laureate, Dr. Wangari Maathai. GWWI is now its own organization. 

Meet the Women Leaders

florence eunice gwwi

Because of Florence and Eunice and the training they received, 200 girls in Amuria, Uganda no longer have to miss classes or brave violence to collect necessary water, or suffer through water-born illnesses.


After learning how to build a Biosand Filter at the training, Mary brought this knowledge and technology back to her community to start a small micro-enterprise.


Because of Florence and Eunice and the training they received, 200 girls in Amuria, Uganda no longer have to miss classes or brave violence to collect necessary water, or suffer through water-born illnesses.

Phionah gwwi

After 14 years as a sex worker, WEA woman Phionah Mbugua found her calling and stability as a clean water trainer and technician. Today she teaches others how to provide clean, safe drinking water for themselves and their families in Kenya.

Down Arrows


About 157 million people in the Eastern and Southern Africa region are not connected to a clean and safe water distribution system, and thus need to use external water sources. Around 247 million people have no access to improved sanitation.*

A study in Tanzania showed a 12% increase in school attendance when water was available within 15 minutes compared to more than half an hour away. When girls enter puberty they are often forced to skip classes or drop out of school, because there are no separate toilets for them which guarantee a minimum of privacy. Lack of separate and decent sanitation and washing facilities discourages girls who are menstruating from attending full time, often adding up to a significant proportion of school days missed.*

In just one day, more than 200 million hours of women’s time is consumed for the most basic of human needs — collecting water for domestic use.*

Down Arrows



The 2011 Women and Water training was comprised of two complementary components — the Advanced and Grassroots Trainings — and was held over a two-week period from July 4-18. We were thrilled to have some former graduates from WEA and GWWI’s 2008 Training participate as trainers-in-training. We also welcomed 10 Fellows — four East African women and six international women — to offer peer support and in the process, enhance their knowledge and understanding of WASH-related issues. The Advanced Training laid the foundation for the strategies that were explored in the Grassroots Training.

Thirty-two women from communities across Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya, joined the 24 women from the Advanced Training in the Grassroots Training. Over the course of the week, the women learned hands-on WASH technologies, engaged in group sessions, and upon completion of the Training, received seed grants to support the implementation of water projects in their communities. The teams of women representing their communities came to the Training having conducted a basic needs assessment to determine the appropriate technologies to address WASH needs in their communities.

Since the training, these women have changed the lives of over 15,000 people in East Africa. They went on to win awards, challenge gender stereotypes, earn money, receive grants, chair local water boards and improve the health of their communities!



Building on past trainings, participants focused on various aspects of WASH, including sanitation, water access, water quality, and alternative energy. In addition to studying the theory behind these technologies, women learned to construct a ventilated improved pit latrine (or a VIP latrine), a rainwater harvesting system, a biosand filter, and solar cook kits. They also learned games designed for community sensitization and to improve hygiene and sanitation habits.

The VIP latrine helps to improve sanitation by providing alternatives to open defecation and poor disposal of human waste, while the rainwater harvesting system allows for the collection and storage of large quantities of rainwater that can be accessed year-round.

Biosand filters remove harmful bacteria from water, and the solar cook kits can be used for a variety of purposes, including cooking and pasteurizing water for drinking. The African continent is blessed with incredible natural resources like the sun. Our hope is that the solar cook kits will optimize the abundance of this resource, and in the process, promote the well-being of women and girls who otherwise would be spending their time out of school and walking long distances to collect water and fuel facing the risk of violence.

GWWI statement v4