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Launch of the Violence, Gender and WASH Toolkit

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Gender-based violence (GBV) is rarely out of the news, around the world shocking cases of abuse are reported on a daily basis. At least 1 in 3 of all women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, usually from a male partner, according to a study published in 2013 by the World Health Organization (WHO).  No country is excluded from this, in American universities, sexual assault affects an estimated 20-25% of female students and an unknown number of male students. This week the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict has taken place in London, which focuses on how to put an end to the widespread use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

The association between violence, gender and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) however, is only beginning to gain global attention, most recently, and horrifically in the rape and murder of two women from the Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh (India), who were heading out to the fields to defecate in the open when they were attacked.  This shows all too clearly the daily dangers women face, ones which could be avoided.

Last week saw the launch of the Violence, Gender and WASH toolkit, developed by Sarah House, Suzanne Ferron, Dr Marni Sommer and Sue Cavill on behalf of WaterAid/Share and funded by DFID.  Lack of adequate sanitation is not the root cause of violence (fundamentally a result of the difference in power between males and females, and between people of different societal groups) but it can lead to increased vulnerability to violence in varying forms.

Why have a toolkit?

It is known that WASH related violence occurs, regular anecdotes have been reported from a number of contexts, however, it was not clear what the scale or scope of the problem is, or what is needed to be done differently to mitigate the risks. The toolkit is a practical guide aimed at practitioners, organisations and governments providing access to essential WASH services, showing the numerous and varied risks associated with WASH, which are broader than was originally thought. It highlights how poor infrastructure and poor design can create unsafe environments, and increase vulnerability to violence and discrimination. It has set out to establish existing evidence, and give clear, practical guidelines that practitioners can use to integrate simple strategies into policy and programming in order to make WASH safer and more effective. It also identifies what people in the WASH sector should do when faced with violence, and the circumstances in which it can arise.

Participation, equity and inclusion

The toolkit focuses on prevention, not treatment. It highlights the importance of routinely considering gender, monitoring feelings of safety and paying attention to people’s experiences - and then ensuring this information is used to create safer, more suitable WASH programs. Women, men, boys and girls need to be involved in the process of identifying risks and solutions from the beginning. It is important to acknowledge that the key link between all groups of marginalised people is their lack of power, which is the root cause of most barriers relating to access to WASH. Challenging embedded stigma, addressing taboos and breaking down social norms and discrimination is key, and can contribute to longer term change in attitudes and relationships between men and women.

Institutional change and cross-sector collaboration

The importance of institutional commitment, and cross sector collaboration is emphasised throughout. Establishing who is responsible for what is also vital, there are key things all humanitarian sectors can do to protect people, and everyone is accountable in implementing services in a way that protects women and girls. The toolkit specifies what is needed from each sector, within the limits of their own capacities.

This toolkit is a very important start to the conversation about how to tackle GBV in WASH; whilst it does not address the root cause of violence, it shows that by having a greater understanding of the issues, strengthening linkages between sectors, and ensuring WASH facilities are designed, constructed and managed in a way which effectively considers gender can help reduce vulnerabilities to violence.

For further information see the toolkit website or contact gbv@wateraid.org

Naomi Vernon is Project Support Coordinator at the CLTS Knowledge Hub at IDS.


Date: 16 June 2014