Improving WASH, Reducing Vulnerabilities to Violence

Alexandra Chitty, Research Uptake Officer at SHARE Research Consortium

Editor’s Note:This guest post is authored by Alexandra Chitty, Research Uptake Officer at SHARE Research Consortium. The Consortium comprises five organisations that have come together to generate research to inform policy and practice in the areas of sanitation and hygiene. In June, SHARE launched a toolkit on Violence, Gender and WASH, which brings together best practices as well as tools and policy responses to help make WASH safer. In her post, Alexandra shares the origins and goals of this project and describes the contents and reception of the toolkit.

The connection between poor WASH and gender-based violence has long been posited but, until recently, the realities of this relationship had received very little recognition or exploration. So, the SHARE Research Consortium, funded by DFID, decided to undertake research and learning on this issue and develop a Practitioner’s Toolkit on Violence, Gender and WASH in order to:

  • Shed light on the intricacies of this link
  • Raise awareness on types of violence which can occur with linkages to WASH
  • Offer practical guidance to practitioners on how to improve their programming and services to minimise the risks of gender-based and other types of violence, as well as how to respond to incidents of violence should they occur

You can view the toolkit here.

WASH and violence: the links

Although the root cause of violence is the differences in power between people, for instance between men and women or between people of different social groupings, poor access to WASH services can increase vulnerabilities to violence. A lack of access to a toilet in or near the home or poor access to water supply can lead to women and children defecating in the open after dark or having to walk long distances to collect water. This in turn can increase their vulnerability to harassment and violence, including sexual violence. A lack of easy access to water can also lead to tensions in the household or fights between neighbours or other users, particularly where water is scarce.

The starting point for the research and the subsequent formulation of the toolkit was a need to better understand the scope and scale of the problem and to provide guidance for practitioners on how they can improve their programming to reduce these risks.

This bridge joins two areas of the community together. The banks are oftern used as a dumping ground for waste, and if people have constructed their own make-shift toilets, quite often they are situated along the banks, where children often play, Kamla Nehru Nagar, India. Credit: WaterAid/Jon Spaull

This bridge joins two areas of the community together. The banks are oftern used as a dumping ground for waste, and if people have constructed their own make-shift toilets, quite often they are situated along the banks, where children often play, Kamla Nehru Nagar, India. Credit: WaterAid/Jon Spaull

What’s in the toolkit?

The toolkit, co-published by 27 organisations, examines the available evidence around how a lack of access to appropriate WASH increases vulnerabilities to violence. Although much of the available evidence is anecdotal or from small scale studies, the research found case studies from more than 30 countries and a number of more in-depth qualitative and quantitative studies. A study in India, for example, found that women felt intense fear of sexual violence when accessing water and sanitation services. These findings were echoed in a similar study in Uganda where women reported that that journeying to use toilets, particularly at night, was dangerous for their security.

The toolkit provides practical guidance for policymakers, programme funding personnel, advocacy staff, implementers, trainers, monitoring and evaluation staff, and human resource staff on how the sector can help make WASH safer and more effective. For example, one of the ten key principles it advances is institutionalizing the requirement to analyse and respond to vulnerabilities to violence in WASH-related policies, strategies, plans, budgets and systems. To achieve this, organisations could, it suggests, undertake advocacy for increased attention on, and allocation of finances and resources to, reducing vulnerabilities to violence linked to WASH.

Key messages

Three main takeaways emerge from the toolkit:

  • Poor access to WASH services can increase vulnerabilities to violence, but the root cause of violence is the differences in power between people
  • Provision of WASH facilities alone cannot prevent any form of violence from occurring as they do not address the root cause of violence; for this wider societal change is required
  • WASH and associated practitioners can, however, make a very positive contribution to trying to reduce the exposure of those most vulnerable to violence

Progress so far

The toolkit was presented to DFID during World Toilet Day (2013) and was officially launched at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on 9th June 2014. There, participants discussed how to better to engage women and adolescent girls in programming, how to engage men and boys on issues of safety, and how best to encourage busy WASH practitioners to consider these issues and integrate considerations of violence into their work.

The toolkit was commended for being highly relevant to DFID’s commitment to reducing violence against women and girls and to WaterAid’s focus on equity and inclusion as a framework for WASH service delivery. UNICEF also indicated that the toolkit was being used to adapt WASH programming and facilities in South Sudan and would be beneficial to the on-going work updating the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings.

Professionals working in over 40 different countries and working for 132 different organisations/institutions have received copies of the toolkit. It has also been distributed through the headquarters of international organisations and can be downloaded here.

Drawing on the toolkit, WaterAid will lead a one day capacity development workshop on the nexus between violence, gender, and WASH at the 37th Water, Engineering and Development Centre Conference being held in Vietnam this September. You can register for this event here.

The authors hope this toolkit will be a valuable resource to WASH and associated practitioners working across the globe to reduce WASH-related vulnerabilities to violence.  For more information on the toolkit, please contact us by email: gbv@wateraid.org