Engaging corporate actors for inclusive WASH-at-work

  • WASH-at-Work programs need to be centred around gender equity and social inclusion
  • The tourism sector can be leveraged to reach communities and improve WASH practices and access
  • The value proposition for WASH-at-Work needs to include things that really matter to business managers

Through the Water for Women grant, the International WaterCentre, in partnership with the University of the South Pacific, Griffith University, The University of Udayana and Institute of Technology Bandung is researching WASH-at-Work in hotels in Fiji and Indonesia. We want to understand current practices regarding gender equity and social inclusion (GESI) in WASH, WASH-at-Work and broader water stewardship issues in the tourism sectors of Indonesia and Fiji. We will explore the potential for and develop a value proposition that considers country and sector specific approaches. We hope that by using a water stewardship approach the project will enable the tourism sectors in Fiji and Indonesia to most effectively implement GESI WASH-at-Work programs that contribute to sustainable development of the sector and its host communities.

During a workshop with a women group in a Fijian village, we asked “what does water, sanitation and hygiene mean to you?” From experience in other countries, we were expecting answers about water for drinking or cooking and toilets but we were surprised when almost every person mentioned “cleanliness”, with some adding that “cleanliness is next to godliness”. What this shows is that WASH, in particular hygiene, is culturally extremely important to Fijians.

“Development without gender equality, is like applause with only one hand clapping”

There are three elements that make the project unique from the standard WASH research, i.e. the project is GESI focused, the subject area of the investigation is the tourism sector, and that we are using a water stewardship approach. Focusing on Fiji, for this blog we have explained why we have done so.


A few years ago, at a conference I heard a speaker say, “development without gender equality, is like applause with only one hand clapping”. Sustainable development requires that all members of society receive the benefits of that development, especially the most vulnerable. This is why the foundational principle of the Sustainable Development Goals is no one left behind. GESI extends gender equity to include other potentially vulnerable communities that are often left behind; sexual minorities, those with disabilities, the elderly and the poor. The most recent Joint Monitoring Program WASH report highlights these disadvantages, showing large discrepancies between the wealthiest and poorest and most vulnerable. WASH services have many gender specific requirements, which are often overlooked by patriarchal decision making. Whether it is higher absenteeism and school leaving rates for girls due to inadequate knowledge about menstrual hygiene, lack of facilities or the greater water collection burden falling to females, gender equity is vital –  and a WASH program must successfully include everyone.

A lazy beach in Indonesia

Why tourism?

Fiji is dependent on tourism as it has become one of the largest sources of foreign exchange. Tourism contributes approximately 40% to the country’s GDP and provides employment for one in every 3 jobs, i.e. 118,500 people. Hospitality is central to the Fijian culture, and this combined with the tropical climate and idyllic beaches make it an excellent tourist location. Tourism has reached every corner of Fiji, so much so that resorts are often asked to provide a vital link between the government and remote communities for health, defence, and disaster recovery. Further, much of the industry is already doing WASH training of some sort often just with food and beverage staff. Without much investment, the sector and their close ties with the community could be leveraged to improve WASH practices and access in the community, improving the lives of all Fijians.

The current COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the importance of WASH in the tourism sector. During this pandemic, hand washing and good hygiene practices have consistently been leading the advice from public health experts, while international travel has been a leading cause of the virus spreading. Though Fiji never completely shut their borders, the government quickly placed heavy quarantine restrictions on international visitors, effectively closing the tourism sector. The action has worked with only 18 COVID-19 cases recorded in Fiji, but now there is pressure to reopen tourism for economic reasons. As tourism staff receive new, potentially infected arrivals, hygiene in these interactions is crucial. If WASH practices in the tourism sector were improved to be of an excellent standard, the government would be much better able to control the spread of the virus should it arrive from a visitor.

Hotel staff member completing a q-method value proposition survey

Why stewardship?

Currently unpublished water stewardship research has found that it is not only financial rationalism that will lead to businesses joining water stewardship programs. This is why WASH-at-Work programs that focus on sound, but often theoretical, financial analysis that show how improved WASH will reduce absenteeism and therefore save money, are often not successful in having businesses join. Businesses often make decisions to join a water stewardship programs after considering things like risks or their reputation. Therefore we need to understand hotels to create a value proposition that appeals to their needs. In this research we will understand what tourism operators care about and target programs to those things. This will hopefully enable the tourism operators to begin and continue any WASH-at-Work recommendations that we create.

Indigenous Fijians as children are taught the practice of ‘mamaroroi’, which is a sense of responsibility, stewardship or caring for something or ‘maroroya’ which refers to taking care of precious items such as children and the environment. We believe that by using a value proposition underpinned by water stewardship, we can leverage the tourism sector in Fiji and Indonesia to create sustainable GESI WASH development in hotels and their nearby communities. Over the next year, we will continue to investigate this hypothesis and look forward to reporting back our results.


This research project is supported by the Australian Government and implemented by International WaterCentre as part of the Water for Women Fund. This blog post has been written by Dr Dawn Gibson, Nanise Masau and Patricia Bibi from the University of the South Pacific and Lachlan Guthrie from the International WaterCentre. We would like to thank and acknowledge our colleagues in this project Prof. Helen Johnson, Bronwyn Powell, Dr Ni Made Utami Dwipayanti, Dr Anindrya Nastiti, Dr Wade Hadwin, Dr Chris Fleming, and Johanna Loehr. 

Lachlan is passionate about the holistic impact that water systems have on society. He is currently a project manager with the International Water Centre (IWC) and sits as co-chair of the Australian Water Association’s SDG Specialist Network, using these roles to actively promote the SDGs in the Australian water sector. Previously he has completed a PhD in Integrated Urban Water Management and worked as a Water and Sanitation technical mentor in Cambodia.

Dawn Gibson is a Senior Lecturer of Tourism and Hospitality in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at the University of the South Pacific. She spent many years overseas living and working in London, New York and Los Angeles, and returned home to Fiji in 1991.

Nanise was the former Director of Tourism for Fiji's Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport?

Patricia has a Masters of Business from Southern Cross University, with her thesis on Tourism, Indigenous Women and Empowerment. She was worked extensively in Fiji’s Tourism and Hospitality Management Sector and is passionate about developing agri-tourism in the Pacific and more widely extending the benefits of tourism.

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