How Yarra Valley Water is challenging perceptions of gender roles in the water utility sector

Women, water and climate change are inextricably linked. Clean, safe and accessible water for everyone in the community plays a critical role in addressing poverty and contributing to economic and human development. Cohesive and fair communities are naturally more resilient, including to shocks from a changing climate or disease outbreaks.

Through the Australian Water Association in partnership with the Peak Water Supply Association of Indonesia (PERPAMSI), the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) has been supporting a Water Utility Improvement Program between three Australian utilities and three Indonesian Water Utilities (PDAMs).

The Australia-Indonesia Water Utility Improvement Program will take forward key water reform objectives of the Indonesian Government in its efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6—universal access to safe and clean water—as well as gender equality and social inclusion.

The program matches Australian expertise with local partners to build the capacity of individuals and organisations in delivering safe and reliable potable water, wastewater and drainage services to PDAMs and surrounding communities. A Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Action Plan embedded across the program is designed to make meaningful change within PDAM governance and operation.

Yarra Valley Water in Australia and PDAM Tirta Sanjiwani are one of three utility “twins” in the program which have been exchanging knowledge in the capacity building program since it started in May 2019. Taking part in the program was the next logical step for Yarra Valley Water, which is the first water utility in the world to commit to the United Nations Global Compact.

Being part of the program has meant Yarra Valley Water has been able to contribute to the SDGs on a much broader scale, particularly in SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), and SDG 10 (reducing inequality).

The GESI Action Plan clearly articulates the areas of commitment and targets measurable outcomes for both partners to track. Targets include no less than 30 percent of program participants are women and/or from marginalised groups; identifying a GESI champion responsible for leading GESI-focused conversations and practices within each utility; and GESI being considered in the program’s monitoring, evaluation and reporting to understand the impacts during and after the program.

PDAM Tirta Sanjiwani has made great progress in building a more inclusive workplace and is close to meeting the minimum GESI targets. The Australian and Indonesian teams meet regularly to discuss real issues facing women in their respective workplaces. These rich conversations and information sharing have contributed to changes in organisational policy to create greater community engagement and more opportunities for women.

Photo of water utility partners discussing the gender equality action plan

Yarra Valley Water and PDAM Tirta Sanjiwani meet to discuss opportunities for the Water Utility Improvement Program including the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Action Plan, Indonesia Water and Wastewater Expo and Forum, September 2019 (credit: Julie Mouka / YVW)


The GESI element of the program is integrated with the technical aspects of the program. This is helping to draw a deeper connection between the role of women in the community and the benefits of diversity in the management of water as a precious resource.

Of the program’s positive future, Ms Natalie Foeng, Chief Financial Officer for Yarra Valley Water said, “We’ll continue to support our Indonesian colleagues—there is much to share and learn. The positive impact this relationship has had on both our organisations is evident by the long-lasting changes we’ve been able to achieve.”

For more information about the program and the other utilities involved, visit the Australian Water Association page.

Feature photo: PDAM Tirta Sanjiwani visited Yarra Valley Water on a diagnostic tour to learn more about water quality and gender equality practices in Australia, November 2019 (credit: Julie Mouka / YVW)

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