Gender Equality and Urban Sanitation

Athena Infonomics-Gender equality & Urban Sanitation
Gender Equality and Urban Sanitation

All around the world, in high income countries as well as low and middle income countries, providers of gendered public latrines often mistake equality for equity, resulting in equal space and number of seats, but longer lines and wait times for women. Women have both biological needs and social restrictions that are different than men; for example, although never encouraged, in many countries, men face fewer sanctions than women for public urination. Social norms prevent women from public urination and even when they do, women select areas that are often physically unsafe for them in order to meet their biological needs. Gender equity in sanitation services will require the biological needs of both genders to be met, in clean, affordable and accessible facilities; if biology and social restrictions are different, should facilities be the same? Are current sanitation systems fully adapted to pregnant mothers with children in tow, or women of all ages, or menstruating girls who might need to wash and receive a new pad before returning to class? Meeting the sanitation needs of all genders is a complex issue, and designing equitable facilities, programs, policies and management systems may need leaders and technicians who are ready to explicitly incorporate the different needs of women, men, boys and girls.

Addressing the pressing needs of women and girls in the sanitation sector requires a look behind the curtain, interrogating the internal workings of the organizations that make and implement sanitation policy, regulation and services. To address this, Athena has embarked on a research project in Kenya in collaboration with Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) called “Barriers to women adopting decision-making roles in sanitation-related public bodies and attitudinal differences between male and female decision-makers”. This project has four main objectives:

  1. Estimating the distribution of genders across decision-making and technical roles in public bodies in the sanitation sector
  2. Identifying the barriers that women face in and holding these roles
  3. Formulating recommendations on how these barriers might be overcome
  4. Characterizing the attitudinal differences between genders with respect to sanitation access,policies and programming
This is the first of four weekly blog posts that we will make during the month of March in celebration of International Women’s Day. Keep an eye out for the next three, as we present excerpts from the results of our fieldwork.

In the meantime, head over to WSUP to understand why gender balance in sanitation workforce matter:

You can read more about the project here:

Zachary Burt
Zachary earned his PhD from the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. He then completed his postdoctorate at Columbia University and a Fulbright Fellowship at the Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay. His research has focused on access, equity and affordability in water and sanitation systems. This incorporated considerations of climate adaptation, sustainability and public health.