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Gender, Violence and Sanitation: practices and tools to make WASH safer

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Although the root cause of violence is the differences in power between people, poor access to sanitation – together with poorly triggered CLTS processes - can increase vulnerabilities to violence. Sarah House and I wrote the Frontiers issue 5 Making Sanitation and Hygiene Safer- Reducing Vulnerabilities to Violence to raise awareness of the types of violence that might be associated with sanitation and how these can be minimised throughout the CLTS process.

This edition of Frontiers
This Frontiers is an introduction to the issues associated with gender, violence and sanitation and provides some practical guidance for CLTS stakeholders on how to make sanitation safer and more effective. We present best practices as well as tools and policy responses to this end. The Frontiers offers practical guidance to CLTS 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.

The Frontiers is based on a practitioner's toolkit on ‘Violence, Gender and WASH’, written together with Marni Sommer and Suzanne Ferron, which was launched in 2014 and co-published by 27 organisations.

Improved sanitation, changing risks
Reducing the vulnerability of rural women and girls to harassment and violence through the construction of toilets in or close to their homes is regarded as one of the major benefits of CLTS.  Toilets close by their dwellings can significantly reduce the daily risks and anxieties experienced by women and girls who have to go further afield and relieve themselves in open defecation sites, usually during the hours of darkness. Whilst household sanitation can reduce the risks, sanitation alone cannot prevent violence from occurring, indeed the type of risk associated with moving from ODF to up the sanitation ladder might change.

Non-violent processes
As well as reducing the violence associated with sanitation, it is equally important to ensure that ODF status is achieved through a non-violent CLTS process. The steps in CLTS processes that could make people vulnerable to violence should be identified and monitored. For instance CLTS actors should also ensure that support to vulnerable households to build toilets does not lead to their exploitation for instance sexual favours or other obligations for support in building a latrine. In this way CLTS can be used for positive societal change to contribute to address the root causes of violence. 

Building capacity to respond
CLTS practitioners, working with others, can make a very positive contribution to reduce the exposure of those most vulnerable to violence. Training for CLTS actors in tools and skills for nonviolent strategies to achieve consensus decision-making can help to recognise and address power-abuse and thereby create more equitable power relations. Providing CLTS facilitators with simple, practical guidance and tools to help communities express their views in ways that don’t lead to conflict and to promote respect of everyone in the community. CLTS actors should promote the principle of non-violence in workshops, resources and publications.

As WASH organisations, ensure that staff act ethically and are clear that exploitative behaviours are not acceptable. Consider the kinds of support that female Natural Leaders need to be effective in their role and how to uphold equal participation by men and women in the communities.

Monitoring feelings of safety
In the Frontiers we draw attention to the root causes of violence and suggest adaptations to the CLTS process that can avoid causing harm. We also highlight the importance of monitoring feelings of safety in using latrines. One of our key recommendations is that CLTS actors should consider feelings of safety of women, adolescents and children and their ability to use household latrines on a continuous basis. For instance, during the certification and verification processes, an assessment of the feelings of safety of latrine users could be included. It is also important to gain feedback on any incidents of violence that may have occurred. 
 Feedback mechanisms are also important to enable reporting of any incidents of abuse which have occurred as part of the process by staff or other community members.

We hope this edition of Frontiers will be a valuable resource for those working to reduce WASH-related vulnerabilities to violence. Hardcopies are available on request from the CLTS Knowledge Hub (clts@ids.ac.uk). French and Portuguese translations of the issue will be available shortly.  For more information on the Gender, Violence and WASH toolkit, please contact gbv@wateraid.org

Sue Cavill is an independent WASH Consultant

Date: 8 May 2015