Empowering women Bangladeshi women in WASH: The journey of Ms. Shramistha Debnath

Themes: Climate change WASH
Countries: Bangladesh Bangladesh-local

As the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector grapples with significant challenges, women leaders like Ms. Shramistha Debnath, an Executive Engineer at the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), are becoming increasingly crucial.

Fresh from completing her master’s degree at IHE Delft University in the Netherlands, Ms. Debnath has delved into the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on Bangladesh’s sanitation value chain, highlighting the intersections of environmental science and public health.

Ms. Debnath’s journey in the water sector began with her firsthand encounter with Bangladesh’s pressing water issues, such as arsenic contamination in groundwater and the impacts of climate change on water salinity and flood management. Her passion for water management blossomed during her tenure at DPHE, where she monitored water supply infrastructure and participated in capacity-building programs.

“Bangladesh faces different challenges in water supply and management. Arsenic contamination in groundwater is one of them. My passion for water actually developed when I started working for DPHE. We aim to enhance the capacity of our employees with modern methods of water source exploration, treatment, supply, and overall management,” Ms. Debnath.

Despite the critical need for gender diversity in the water sector, women face significant barriers. Cultural norms, stereotypes, and limited access to decision-making positions often hinder their progress. Ms. Debnath notes that DPHE is actively working to overcome these challenges through initiatives like gender mainstreaming, capacity-building programs, and the establishment of women’s networks and forums.

“Women often face barriers in accessing decision-making positions within water management organizations. However, there are several initiatives and programs actively promoting gender inclusion. DPHE supports the establishment of women’s networks and forums within the water sector, providing platforms for women to exchange knowledge and advocate for their rights,” she says.

During her studies at IHE Delft, Ms. Devnath was exposed to various discussions and programs focused on gender diversity in water management. These experiences underscored the importance of gender mainstreaming in achieving effective and equitable water governance. She believes these learnings can be effectively applied in Bangladesh by developing gender-responsive policies, enhancing community engagement, and improving data collection and analysis.

“Addressing gender disparities in water management is crucial for effective and equitable water governance. Bangladesh can develop and implement policies that mainstream gender considerations into water management initiatives, ensuring that both genders’ specific needs and priorities are addressed,” she emphasizes.

Ms. Debnath also highlights the critical role of local communities in promoting gender diversity within water management institutions. Communities can drive significant progress by advocating for gender-inclusive policies and supporting women’s participation in decision-making processes. She shares that capacity-building programs and community support networks are essential for enhancing women’s skills and knowledge in water management.

“Local communities hold significant potential to promote gender diversity. Capacity-building programs are crucial for enhancing women’s skills and knowledge in water management, empowering them to take on leadership roles and contribute to sustainable water management practices,” she notes.

For young women considering a career in the water sector, Ms. Debnath offers insightful advice: thoroughly research the field, be prepared for gender challenges, seek practical experience early, find mentors and allies, and advocate for sustainability. She emphasizes the importance of developing a diverse skill set and understanding the broader context of water issues.

“Pursuing a career in the water sector can be immensely rewarding. It’s essential to get the right education and training, seek practical experience, and find mentors who can offer guidance and support. Stay current, challenge norms, and be prepared to innovate,” she advises.

Beyond platforms like Equal Aqua, which aims to boost female recruitment, retention, and promotion in water sector jobs, Ms. Debnath stresses the need for technical skills development, leadership and management training, and robust support systems to empower women in the water sector.

In a field where gender diversity can lead to more inclusive and effective decision-making, the contributions of women like Ms. Shramistha Debnath are invaluable. As Bangladesh continues to navigate its water management challenges, fostering a more gender-inclusive workforce is not just a goal but a necessity for sustainable and equitable progress.