Water Sanitation Health

Sanitation challenge: Turning commitment into reality

Paying attention to gender and equity

In most cultures, women have the primary responsibility for water, sanitation and hygiene at the household level. Women play a crucial role in influencing the hygiene behaviours of young children. The effective use of sanitation facilities will therefore depend on the involvement of both women and men in selecting the location and technology of such facilities. It is also essential that facilities are designed to accommodate the special needs of children. The availability of water and sanitary facilities in schools can reduce the likelihood of girls dropping out. The design of the latrine and the location of water points and toilet facilities close to the home can increase women’s health and dignity – and ultimately reduce violence against them.

All too often, however, decisions about the design and location of water and sanitary facilities are made without the involvement of users – especially female users.

What can we do?

National governments can frame national policies in a way that enshrines the idea of gender and equity at the centre of sanitation and hygiene promotion; invest in training or retraining front-line staff to work effectively with women, men and children; earmark funds for school sanitation; and commission research to identify where social or economic groups are persistently excluded from access to sanitation. National governments can ensure that the overall sanitation framework is gender sensitive, by enabling the participation of women in the development of sanitation policy. Gender provisions should address both the practical and strategic needs of men and women, which differ according to culture and traditions, location and other factors, as well as an appropriate strategic approach that takes into consideration these differences. Keeping girls in school ultimately impacts the adoption of healthy sanitation and hygiene practices and significantly reduces infant mortality.

District/local governments can hire front-line staff with skills to work with women, men and children, reorganise public sector institutions to remove internal gender biases and discrimination; invest in school sanitation; and design and implement formative research and capacity building to ensure that the needs and aspiration of all groups are considered in the design of sanitation and hygiene promotion programmes.

Communities and civil society can lobby for better services targeted towards women, men and children; support public sector efforts to improve gender and social development skills; provide information about what all groups in society want; and encourage and build capacity of community-based organisations to engage effectively with public sector programmes.

Householdscan keep their girl children in school; select user-friendly sanitation facilities for all members of the household (for example, including women and children); and give responsibility for sanitation and hygiene practices to all members of the household.

Entrepreneurs can employ and train female workers to construct products and provide sanitation and hygiene services; and design products that are user-friendly to all members of the household.

International organisations can support and advocate for more gender-sensitive approaches; and compile and disseminate information about how things could be done better.

We’re inspired by…

... women masons all over the world
There are abundant cases of female masons working successfully in sanitation, and a number of projects have been designed specifically to build their capacity. Once trained, such women are often well-accepted and make a successful living, although few rise to senior positions on projects. An effective strategy for poor women appears to be the formation of cooperatives that can provide mutual support and help to bridge periods when work is less abundant. Good examples can be found in Bangladesh, India, Jamaica, Kerala, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Tonga and Zimbabwe.

… the Sichiyanda focus village in Zambia
WaterAid started a project in Sichiyanda village in 2001 to improve water supply and sanitation for the village. Rosemary Mande became the Chairperson for hygiene – and a latrine builder. Efforts by Rosemary to promote hygiene and encourage the use and construction of VIP latrines in the village have led to the reduction of diarrhoea in the community. In one year, a team of six latrine builders (three men and three women) built latrines for 28 households in the community. Hygiene promotion continues on a regular basis. Overall, people in the village are more optimistic about their future since the project began.

Source: van Wijk-Sijbesma C (1998). Gender in water resources management, water supply and sanitation: roles and realities revisited. Delft, International Water and Sanitation Centre (Technical Paper Series No. 33-E);
WaterAid (2004). Building for the future, Oasis, Spring/Summer. London, WaterAid (www.wateraid.org).