This blog originally appeared on the Institute of Development Studies website, and is written by Elaine Mercer.
Within the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector, gender issues are frequently reduced to the roles and experiences of women and within that often with a narrow focus on menstrual hygiene management. Although these issues are very important, many other central gender equality issues are missed or side-lined.
To celebrate International Women’s Day which focuses on gender balance this year, we are featuring innovative work in Vietnam by Women for Water in partnership with Thrive Networks/East Meets West. In Vietnam, many women face challenges in accessing WASH services and facilities; eg lack of funds and information, exclusion from decision-making, poorly designed facilities along with restrictive gender norms.
Overcoming barriers to women’s access to hygiene and water
In the video interview below, Hanh Nguyen Hong (Thrive Networks/East Meets West) talks about how the Women-Led Output Based Aid (WOBA) programme in Vietnam is overcoming these barriers by facilitating gender transformative WASH. WOBA is implemented in partnership with the Vietnam Women’s Union. The Union is a fantastic and well-connected mobilising force as it has 17 million members across the country at all levels, including village level.
The Women’s Union facilitates regular meetings with activities and information sharing to engage and empower women, supporting them to identify their WASH challenges and providing them with advice on options available to them. Also importantly, they help women build their confidence to voice their specific needs and to communicate and negotiate these within their family, the broader community and also within WASH programming and policy more broadly. So WOBA empowers women to enter into the still largely male domain of decision-making and design processes around WASH. This approach to addressing and transforming the structural inequalities within the WASH sector aims to ensure that women’s visions for more gender balanced WASH facilities and services are embedded and long-lasting.
Inclusive and equitable processes
Gender equality and social inclusion are central to the WOBA programme. Actively involving all people within communities (women, men, marginalised groups, people with disabilities) is seen to ensure more equitable and inclusive processes, which lead to more effective and sustainable outcomes in water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as addressing and transforming inequalities.
The CLTS Knowledge Hub fully support transformative approaches to WASH and acknowledge that there is a lot to be done, shared and learned from in terms of work, research and innovation in this area. You can find more examples of gender transformative approaches in our recent Frontiers on including men and boys in sanitation and hygiene programming. The publication looks at the practices and needs of men and boys. It reviews approaches used to encourage them to stop open defecation, whilst also featuring approaches and tools that facilitate men to support women’s leaderships, voice and participation in WASH. It takes a look at how programming can support more positive masculine norms and relations between men, and how to bring equality into the division of responsibility between men and women, boys and girls.