iDE Global

How gender affects sales

Research suggests that matching sales agent gender to different target households can increase sanitation uptake

Although they may receive the same training, men and women bring different perspectives about their work. We saw this in Nepal when we reviewed how customers reacted to sales agents differently based on the gender of the agent and the make-up of the customers’ households. These findings and more come from an August 2019 research report prepared by iDE for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) entitled, “Understanding How Sales Agent Gender Affects Key Sanitation Behaviors in Nepal.”


As a market-based development organization, iDE strives to understand what motivates customers to buy, as well as to understand the intangible things that prevent them from buying. Performing market research in the world’s poorest locations may be difficult, but it has great potential for driving health and societal benefits. For example, the difference between two households—one with an improved latrine, and one without—can be striking in lost productivity and income due to increased sickness from diarrheal diseases.

From 2016 through 2021, USAID is implementing the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Partnerships and Learning for Sustainability (WASHPaLS) project. This five-year Task Order vehicle is meant to improve water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programming by identifying, researching, and sharing best practices for the delivery of WASH services and sustained behavior change. In 2017, the WASHPaLS project asked iDE to carry out research exploring the role that women play in the sanitation value chain in Nepal. Since iDE had been building markets for sanitation in Nepal since 2011, we already had a cadre of trained sales agents, known as community business facilitators, to be able to explore how gender affected sanitation behaviors like latrine purchase and use. 

The research was based on 106 sales agents—68 (64%) male, and 38 (36%) female. A mixed-methods approach using both a household survey administered to 600 households that had purchased a latrine from an iDE-trained sales agent and a qualitative assessment performed by the agents that included information on demographics, purchasing decisions, intra-household latrine use (reported and observed), and hand washing practices, among others.

Key Findings

The household type—defined broadly as to where it fell on the spectrum from traditional to non-traditional or marginalized—is significantly correlated with  the behaviors and practices of the customer. Our principal finding is that gender inclusion in latrine purchase and funding decisions, as well as marginalized household status, are key determinants when analyzing how a sales agent’s gender influences key behaviors. Roughly, the more traditional, male-dominated households were more likely to cite trusting their sales agent and believing they offered a good value when purchasing from a male sales agent.  Marginalized households or households where women were involved in the funding or purchasing decision showed no bias between agents based on their gender.

In addition to this selection bias, the research revealed a strong correlation between female sales agents and increased use of the latrine. Part of the reason for this difference may be how male and female agents perceive their roles. Men, for the most part, viewed follow-up visits as a nuisance, focusing instead on achieving more sales. Women, however, saw themselves more than just a sales agent but a community leader, and emphasized both pre-sale and post-sale interaction. In some ways, female sales agents saw their sanitation role as a mission, while the men viewed it simply as an income generation activity.

Why It Matters

In the last seven years, iDE has helped facilitate the sale of more than 50,000 latrines in Nepal. While the Nepalese government has just declared the country open defecation free, many households still lack their own toilet and struggle with sanitation hygiene. To continue to improve sanitation uptake and behavior change requires a sustainable market fueled by motivated sales agents. With the knowledge from this research, iDE can help direct our agents more strategically, targeting households with different genders based on the community’s cultural demographic.

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