Gender Inequality and Struggle to Achieve Sustainable Sanitation for Women

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Socio-cultural norms disproportionately burden women

Roles based on patriarchal norms, disproportionately assign “care giving” roles to women. This socially allocated work is effort-heavy, ‘invisible’, ‘unrecognized’ and ‘unpaid’. For example, women largely bear the burden of taking care of the children, elderly or ill. Often they are responsible for fetching water, and carrying out sanitation-related cleaning activities. Mostly, men do not partake in these responsibilities. These gender based roles and responsibilities, restrict women’s opportunities for education, employment, political engagement, leisure and self-care. Furthermore, while poverty affects households as a whole, women bear a disproportionate burden owing to the gender based division of labour. The gender disparities in economic power-sharing are also an important contributing factor to the poverty of women. Poverty is also characterized by lack of participation in decision-making processes in everyday social and cultural life.

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Additionally, intersection of gender with caste, class, age, religion ethnicity, and intergenerational cultural practices further marginalizes women and makes their position vulnerable. In line with this, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) formulated for 2015-30, is based on the principle of Leave no one behind (LNOB). It is based on the idea that the Goals and targets should be met for people from all segments of society especially including the groups being left furthest behind. Despite such commitment and national level initiatives, India is still grappling with ground realities that are leading to widespread gender inequalities in our communities. Consequently, it becomes imperative to interlink SDG goal 5 (on Gender Equality) with every goal to address gender nuances across priority areas.

The eradication of poverty is not possible merely by implementing anti-poverty programmes. Instead, structural changes in policies and programmes that reduce gender barriers in accessing resources, opportunities and public services are required.

Need for gender sensitive programing

Gender neutral programmes accept the “status quo”. It considers “citizen” as a homogeneous category. It does not necessarily take into account the specificities of the excluded group. Consequently, by not taking into account the specificities of the vulnerable group, gender unintentional policies, schemes or programmes further marginalises the already vulnerable group. For example, in India, the capital expenditure by government for the provision of community toilets (CTs) and public toilets (PTs), is much higher for men as compared to women, and it is further less for transgender persons. Firstly, no investments are made for providing separate bathing areas for transgender persons. In some places the toilets for PwD are labelled as ‘gender neutral’ toilets which can be used by all but, these toilets do not have a bathing area. Secondly, the government makes large capital investment to provide urinals for men in public and community toilets. These urinals are separate from the cubicles meant for defecation, and are charged much less. Given that women use the same pan for both urination and defecation, there is no additional capital investment made by the government for urinals. Thirdly, women are charged the same for both defecation and urination while the men sre charged much less for using only the urinals. Consequently, while there is lower capital expenditure on women and even less on transgender vis-à-vis men, both women and transgender persons pay higher user charge each day vis-à-vis men.

Tailor made interventions which address differential gender needs is expected to ensure more lasting and positive outcomes. This progression is however sustainable when gender integrated approach is reflected in national and state level policies, plans, and institutional mechanisms. For better and more holistic gender transformative outcomes, it is essential that the programmes are gender sensitive.

Need for GDD

However, there is lack of data on ‘care work’ that is contributed primarily by women. Often women are primarily responsible for procuring and using water for domestic consumption, health and sanitation. However, these nuances do not get captured in the traditional datasets.

Capturing GDD on water collection and associated time burdens, health issues associated with unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene issues, decision making process and sanitation related cleaning activities is essential to assess, and make more visible the differential effects of policy measures on transgender persons, women and men, and to evaluate and track the role of women in water and sanitation issues more effectively.

GDD makes it possible to fully monitor and measure actual progress towards the realization of the water and sanitation global commitments, in particular the SDGs. A gender-sensitive indicator compares the situation of men, women and transgender. These indicators help to capture the absolute position of women, men, transgender at particular points in time. This makes it possible to identify gender gaps. For instance, the census captures the literacy rate for both men and women so, it is possible to determine disparities between men and women in literacy. However, this data is not available for transgender persons. Consequently, it is difficult to track their progress. Gender disaggregated data is pre-requisite for effective policy formulation, planning process to reduce gender inequalities and to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of policies.

While there exists some sex segregated data on water covering- a) responsibility for, and time spent on, water collection; b) women as employees or decision-makers in public water institutions; c) women’s role in, and access to, irrigation; d) women’s role in, and access to, water and sanitation facilities; there is limited gendered understanding of sanitation.

It is crucial to build an understading of gendered differences in access to and control of, community water and sanitation services; women’s responsibility for water collection; and the need for gender-attentive workplace policies in the sector.

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