Interview with Gemma Bulos, Executive Director & Co-Founder of Global Women’s Water Initiative

Interview with Gemma Bulos, Executive Director & Co-Founder of Global Women’s Water Initiative

How is the Global Women's Water Initiative involved in the humanitarian aid and development sector? 

Global Women's Water Initiative (GWWI) trains the stakeholder who is disproportionately affected by the lack of water and sanitation: women. GWWI trains women to become local WASH experts – technicians, trainers and social entrepreneurs – who are capable of offering a variety of WASH services to their communities, addressing water access, quality, sanitation and hygiene.

How is your organisation represented in North America?

GWWI is based in the USA where funds are raised. The program design is in collaboration with GWWIs US office and our 3 sister offices in Uganda and Kenya.

What are programmes being implemented by GWWI?

GWWIs landmark program, Women’s Water Leadership Academy is a 4-year hands on training to build the capacity of grassroots women to build appropriate WASH technologies (rainwater harvesting systems, water storage tanks, latrines, composting toilets, slow sand water filters, handwashing stations etc); make hygiene products (soap, shampoo, reusable menstrual pads, biodigesters, etc); and offer WASH workshops (water testing, hygiene, water protection, water-saving agriculture, sanitation, etc).

Women then earn money as local WASH practitioners offering a variety of WASH products, services and training. As such, they expand their sphere of influence and develop as leaders in their communities.

What does your position at GWWI entail?

I am the main fundraiser and training designer. I’m mentoring and training our Uganda and Kenyan local staff to take over operations in East Africa so that GWWI can expand to other regions having built the capacity of our sister offices to raise funds, operate and run regional trainings on their own.

What initiatives are you involved in?

Our 4 year Women’s Water Leadership Academy trains 200 women every four years to become WASH experts. Our first cohort of students graduated in 2016. GWWI just launched our 2nd cohort of women this past July 2017. They will undergo the same rigorous 4-year training their previous cohort attended.

Please see the accomplishments/impact of our first cohort of trainees

We also conduct research to identify gender gaps in the provision of WASH. Last year our team released a report identifying gender gaps in the provision of WASH from the Ministry level down to the water service organizations. This year, GWWI conducted a country wide gender-audit of women rainwater harvesting masons to identify their contributions, challenges, and needs.

Which are your main priorities for 2017/2018?

Our main priority of 2017/18 is 4 fold:

  • Launch our 2nd cohort of trainees in the Women’s Water Leadership Academy
  • Offer a Masters Program in Leadership for our 2016 WWLA graduates to take their programs to the next level
  • Submit the findings of our gender audit to the Uganda Ministry of Water as well as the Ministry of Gender to lobby for more funding to support women as WASH facilitators and technicians
  • Begin a 3-year handover of our Africa operations to our 3 sister offices in Uganda and Kenya.

What will your speaker panel at the Global Disaster Relief & Development Summit address and why is it important for those attending to engage in this topic?

I believe there are still huge gender gaps in the provision of WASH. Gender policies are being passed by not enforced. Women are generally only seen as recipients of WASH projects when they have the potential to spearhead them. Women are much more likely to be invested in the long-term success of WASH projects because they are more affected by the crisis than others. Many WASH and gender programs simply require a gender quota, but they don’t focus on expertise or women as providers. Others that do engage women as providers only train them to deliver only WASH solution whether it be water access, water quality, sanitation or hygiene. In our experience, grassroots women with a deep knowledge in all aspects of WASH have the potential to reduce the risk of water related disease in their families and communities, they can uplift themselves from poverty and step into a role of leadership in their communities. Our program uses WASH as an entry point to support women to be local leaders who are providing long-term solutions to their communities. Our women do not leave their communities for other opportunities. They are stalwart members of their communities and can provide long term ongoing WASH support rippling from generation to generation.

What are some of the latest trends you see in disaster response and disaster resilience?

With our women, disaster resilience is being addressed by household level solutions rather than centralized solutions. The women we train build household level tanks, rainwater systems, water filters, latrines etc. The more an individual and household are self-sustaining, the more likely they will care for their technologies, enforce the proper behaviour and be resilient the challenges around centralized solutions.

What are the lessons learned related to those mentioned above?

Just because a gender and WASH policy is passed doesn’t mean it is enforced. From our research last summer identifying the gender gaps in WASH provision, many (men and women) expected that it was up to the women to empower themselves to become WASH facilitators.

What is your impression of the upcoming Global Disaster Relief & Development Summit 2017?

Excited to participate.

Why is it important for you/your organisation to engage in such events?

There are so many water conferences that I attend and they are saying the same things every year about the challenges women face regarding water, and still there are so few women in the room not to mention women speakers. We need grassroots voices in the room talking about what they are doing and how they are doing it.

To summarise, what is the key message or learning from your work that you’d like to share with the AIDF audience prior to the Summit?

Women are the missing link. If we can build their knowledge and capacity as full service local WASH facilitator and providers, we can bridge the water gap and have a chance to institutionalize the water and health practices that can start from the women in their homes and women’s groups and ripple out into the communities. 

For more information about the Global Disaster Relief and Development Summit, visit; for all inquiries, please email Alina O’Keeffe at

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