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Analysing a Gender perspective in sustainable sanitation

  • Category
    Society
  • Published
    15th Mar, 2021

With reference to sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030, India needs to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

Context

With reference to sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030, India needs to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

Background

  • While the topic of women and water, sanitation and hygiene is a widely accepted concern, it continues to be an issue in developing countries with serious consequences. 
  • Women, despite having a high demand for safe toilet facilities, continue to practise unsafe sanitation. 
  • In this context, the Government of India launched the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), which envisages the implementation of the infrastructure of water & sanitation and makes India Open defecation free (ODF).
  • Though the SBM is a people's movement for improving health and hygiene, still there are instances that girls and women face a situation where access to sanitation facilities is not easy and even it is unsafe.
  • As gender is an important notion in sanitation and hygiene, there is no doubt that women can help to drive change and bring about lasting change as the Jan Andolan of swachhta, health, and sanitation gains momentum.
  • The situation makes it important to have measures for strengthening and effectively implementing a sanitation policy and other programmes to address gender power relations.

Women, Sanitation and Swachh Barat Abhiyan

  • Gender sensitive objective: The Swachh Bharat Grameen Phase I guidelines (2017) state that “requirements and sensitivities related to gender, including dignity and safety issues, are to be taken into account at all stages of sanitation programmes from planning to post-implementation.”
  • Guidelines w.r.t gender dimension: The department of Drinking Water and Sanitation released the guidelines, recognising the gender dimensions of sanitation in India. It emphasised not only the need for women’s participation in planning and implementation of sanitation interventions but also “their leadership in SBM-G committees and institutions”.
  • Guidelines to States: The states were accordingly expected to ensure adequate representation of women in the village water and sanitation committees (VWSCs), leading to optimal gender outcomes. The SBM-Grameen guidelines (Phase I) specifically recommended that 50 per cent of the members of VWSCs should be women.
  • Women for behavioural change: The government has also very effectively used over 8 lakh swachhagrahis, mainly women, who for small honorariums work to push through behavioural change at the community level.

Analysis

How the role of women is changing?

  • Over the last two decades, the gender landscape in urban and especially in rural India has slowly changed, bringing women to the cusp of a powerful social and political revolution.
  • The harbinger of this change is a unique policy experiment in village-level governance that has transformed the weakest of the weak and poorest of the poor: women in rural India.

The Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act

  • In 1993, India amended the Constitution to accommodate Panchayati Raj—which effectively means village self-governance—and legislate previously non-binding rules. It introduced a three-tiered structure at the village, block, and district levels.
  • A third of seats on every village council were reserved for women.
  • The vision was that these women-headed councils would bring greater transparency and governance.
  • However, the situation has not changed much for all and especially in terms of sanitation.

Role of Women in achieving goals of Swachh Bharat

  • In Jharkhand, trained women masons built over 15 lakh toilets in one year, and helped the state achieve its open defecation free (rural) target.
  • The India Sanitation Coalition has helped link micro-finance with self-help groups run by women for sanitation needs. Increasingly, interventions with these groups which drive livelihoods can be designed to produce income and well-being impact with water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programmes.
  • The government has also very effectively used over 8 lakh swachhagrahis, mainly women, who for small honorariums work to push through behavioural change at the community level.
  • Case Study: Uttara Thakur, a differently-abled panchayat head from Chhattisgarh, was determined to improve sanitation services in her village. She went door-to-door to motivate people to use toilets. Her contagious spirit mobilised the whole village to join hands and become open-defecation free.
  • Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon, a Doordarshan TV series promoted by PFI, used entertainment-education around safe and sustained sanitation practices to improve people’s awareness and promote shifts in social and gender norms around the use and maintenance of toilets. This reached 200 million viewers, nearly 45 per cent of whom reportedly took some action or promised to.

What is Swachh Bharat Abhiyan?

  • Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is one of the most popular and significant missions in the History of India. This campaign was introduced by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and was launched on 2nd October 2014 to honour Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of a clean country.

Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) 2.0

  • The government in the Union Budget 2021 allocated Rs 1, 41,678 crores for the Swachh Bharat Mission (U) 2.0. The components of SBM-Urban 2.0 are:
    • New component – Wastewater treatment, including faecal sludge management in all ULBs with less than 1 lakh population
    • Sustainable sanitation (construction of toilets)
    • Solid Waste Management
    • Information, Education and Communication, and
    • Capacity building

What are the Challenges Involved in Gender and Sanitation?

As per the census 2011, more than fifty percent of India’s population defecated in the open, and recent data showed that about 60% of rural households and 89% of urban households have access to toilets.

  • Weak Participation and Proxy for men: In practice, the promoters of swachhta rarely encourage women to participate in water and sanitation committees, which does not guarantee their participation.
    • Further, the age, position in the family, and societal and cultural barriers for females are some of the factors that determine the participation of women in sanitation decision-making.
  • Gender-Based Sanitation Insecurity: There is a disproportionate burden faced by women especially shortage of or the non-availability of sanitation facilities that can be also called “Gender-based sanitation insecurity.”
    • The desire for privacy during bathing and defecation is different in the case of girls and women than men.
    • Thus, the non-availability of proper sanitation facilities creates a helpless situation for females and leads to the risk of faucal-orally transmitted diseases, urogenital tract infections, urinary incontinence, and chronic constipation.
  • Risks Involved With Open Defecation: Women face threats to their life and feel unsafe while seeking a toilet facility or while going out for open defecation.
    • This leads to the consumption of less food and water by the women to minimize the need to exit the home to use toilets.
    • The risk involved with feeling unsafe while searching a place to go often to the toilet after dark or early in the morning; and dropping out of school at the onset of menstruation due to a lack of safe and private disposal facilities.
  • Taboo: Menstrual hygiene education is taboo in India. Women find it difficult to openly ask for sanitary products from a male family member. Women, especially in rural areas, are confined to their homes and depend on male or elderly female household members for procuring sanitary products.

What measures are required?

  • Ensuring Behaviour Change: Information, education, and communication, which aims at behaviour change of the masses, is key to the success of the Swachhta mission 2.0.
    • Swachh Bharat Mission 2 .0 speaks of sustained behavioural change while embarking on the newer agendas of sustainable solid waste management and safe disposal of wastewater and reuse.
    • A proactive SBM messaging that reflects major transformations, attempting to popularise and portray stories of women groups will create the much-needed social ripple that would inspire women to take complete charge.
  • Linking Sanitation & Hygiene With Livelihood: The India Sanitation Coalition has helped link micro-finance with self-help groups run by women for sanitation needs.
    • Such interventions with these groups should be promoted to drive livelihoods and produce income and well-being impact with the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs.
  • Monitoring Gender Outcomes: A national monitoring and evaluation system to track and measure gender outcomes in SBM is necessary.
    • Several researchers in this space have commented that gender analysis frameworks have a long history in development practice.
    • We can learn from these frameworks to support design, implementation, and measurement that can bridge the gender equality gap in sanitation.
    • There is a need for effective communications and training programs to build the capacity of stakeholders on gender targeting, both on the supply and demand sides of interventions.

Is right to water and sanitation is fundamental?

  • World Health Organization (WHO): The right to water and sanitation is recognized as fundamental to attaining all other human rights.
  • UNGA on Sanitation: The UN General Assembly adopted two resolutions, one in 2010and the other in 2015, which recognised human rights to sanitation and clean water. The 2015 resolution especially pressed on sanitation and called upon states to ensure women’s proportionate participation in decision-making related to sanitation management and practices.

Conclusion

The sustainable development goals require India “by 2030, to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.”  Ensuring that women and girls have an equal role in the design, management and monitoring of the WASH ecosystem can be a strategic gender-mainstreaming practice that empowers women and girls while improving WASH outcomes.

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