Gender, Infrastructure Planning and Participation

Gender, Infrastructure Planning and Participation

In addition to a gendered analysis of attitudes towards sanitation, we also compare responses obtained from public sector organisations and our list of NGOs. We find that there are some significant deviations in the way these domains think about, design and implement policies and programs in the sector. One key strand of divergence is the approach each domain adopts in looking at solution to sanitation issues. Sanitation-related public bodies tend to focus on technical issues of sanitation, such as increasing coverage or laying sewerage networks and are not as considerate of gender issues as non-public or not-for-profit organisations. Both public sector and non-public sector employees shared the view that in the public sector organisations, development of infrastructure is given priority over gender budgeting or addressing gender concerns. As one interviewee noted, the public sector views “deficiency in access [as] due to a lack of pipes [and] not an issue of inclusion”.

Interestingly, a sizeable number of employees across both domains were of the opinion that technical education should neither be a prerequisite for promotions, and neither should technicians have the final say on matters pertaining to planning, designing or implementation of sanitation interventions. Having increased participation and involvement of employees trained in social issues not only brings diversity in perspectives but might also grant increased buy-in from all levels of stakeholders, including at the village level, NGOs and other community-based organisations. There was some limited evidence that these ‘softer’ or more ‘participatory’ approaches that NGOs took did have some gendered impacts on sanitation access as well. Female NGO workers gave a few concrete examples of how they allowed female beneficiaries to be incorporated in their programming. For example, one of our female respondents retold how in a Kenyan city in which she was helping to implement a WASH project which expanded access to poor households, one local women asked her to be part of the construction and maintenance crew: “I asked why (local) women were not involved? The (local) men said they would be slow. The (local) women said it’s a man’s job. But one brave (local) woman said she wanted to do it. And the other’s followed, and they were more productive than the men. And this turned into a very successful program.” We asked her if this was only possible because she, the respondent, was a women, and she said, “Yes. A man would not have seen the potential of these women and would not have known how to encourage them.” Another female respondent who also worked at an NGO stated that “you cannot do urban sanitation without gender. … Women are also in charge of water so they are concerned with wastewater as well. How you design a latrine must incorporate a woman’s perspective – how to clean, diaper disposal, safe and accessible at night.” This is in contract with the perspective found at public sector institutions, where many respondents thought of women’s access in terms of the attributes of toilet facilities (as mentioned in our previous blog post), and not in terms of women’s participation, in the design, implementation or evaluation of projects.

Equitable opportunities in the workplace for all genders is a human right. In addition, gender diversity has been shown to improve corporate performance, and we suspect that the same is true for public sector institutions. In our research, a large majority of participants agreed that having a diversity of opinions, including from both genders, would make their organization stronger, and was a desirable goal. But we do not find evidence that women working in public sector organizations have a significantly different approach to sanitation programming and policies, as compared to the men. It might be that gender diversity in the workplace does not, acting alone, impact gender inequity in sanitation access. But incorporating gender as part of a larger effort to make the design, implementation and evaluation of sanitation projects and programming ‘softer’ and more participatory, could be an important step towards the larger goal of reducing the gender inequities associated with sanitation issues.

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.