CHAPTER 6: Women and men: Efforts towards a gender-balanced approach
Traditionally, women manage a household's drinking water supply. With the introduction of male-dominated engineered systems, women's role in this aspect of life was not fully acknowledged. The elite and influential men were now making the major decisions, including those regarding the location of tapstands and their use. This practice continued until the mid-1980's when women were slowly recognised as key facilitators in the sustainability of a drinking water system and the improvement of health in their community.
Traditionally, a drinking water and sanitation programme addresses women's practical needs such as reducing the time needed for collecting water. A drinking water system brings water closer to the house, which can then be used for vegetable production, while better sanitary facilities improve the health situation. These changes will improve the overall living conditions of women. Their position, however, is not automatically improved by a drinking water and sanitation programme. The latter depends on the women having equal access to the decision-making process, resources, knowledge and skills. CWSSP's women's involvement programme, which started in the mid-1980's, was a first attempt to target women in particular. The sanitation activities were designed for women, who were given responsibility for transferring the knowledge thus gained. Men in turn were made active members in the user committees and kept making the final decision on all kinds of important matters, even those which were in the women's sphere.
During the first few years of SRWSP, women rather than men were targeted for the health and sanitation education activities. The need to involve men was addressed only at a later stage. While the emphasis is still on empowering women, which is important in the effort to broaden the basis for decision-making and knowledge transfer, now men are included in HSE activities and are encouraged to become active in improving sanitary behaviour.
SRWSP realised that a gender-balanced approach can only be successful if the facilitators show understanding and sensitivity in matters of gender. Subsequently, gender sensitisation training sessions were organised. All activities within the process were analysed for their gender sensitivity and were adjusted where necessary. Special activities were added to encourage gender balance at the community level. To assess the community opinion on the SRWSP approach with regard to women and gender, special awareness-raising and assessment workshops were organised.
• Active involvement of women and men in all activities.
Though quite obvious, this is not automatically the case. Women have a very heavy workload and are not always available for meetings and gatherings. Activities should be arranged to fit women's schedules, at times agreed by them and acknowledged by men. Being present is not enough. Active participation means giving women the opportunity to express their views and opinions. Women might prefer to first consult among themselves in separate women's meetings. Also, the tools and methods used need to be adjusted since more men than women are literate. Having female facilitators gives women the confidence to become more active in their roles.
• Equal access to decision making processes.
Access to information is necessary to make good decisions. Information flow often takes place in informal ways, e.g. while people collect firewood or play cards. Men and women have their distinct ways of transmitting and absorbing knowledge. It is important that men and women have the same information. Moreover, men and women might have very different ideas on a particular issue e.g. location of a tapstand. For men it might be important on whose land it will be constructed, for women the distance can be a decisive factor. Facilitation will help bring such different opinions into the open and reach a consensus. Here again, women might need separate meetings to clarify their views.
• Women in key positions in the WSMC.
Women don't always want to hold high-profile posts such as chairperson, as these jobs involve too much travel for which women do not have the time. Women show keen interest in monitoring the funds and use of material. This could be combined with making them co-signatories of the bank account and giving them extra supervisory tasks during construction. Having female friends on the committee is important if women are to play an active role there. One or two women on a male-dominated committee are not in a position to make the women's view count in meeting. This can be overcome by increasing the number of women on the committee or by forming a support group for the women's representatives on the committee.
• Involvement of men and women in health and sanitation education.
Health and sanitation education is still regarded a matter for women. Women take care of the children, the sick, the food preparation and the household sanitation. Providing women with better knowledge and awareness on the linkage between clean water, good sanitary habits and improved health are bound to have an impact. By excluding men from this knowledge, acceptance in the community has suffered. Having men as well as women involved enhances the subject's importance and at the same time encourages a better division of household tasks.
• Training of women in technical skills.
An efficient drinking water system is very important for women. A damaged, broken or leaking tap, a clogged drain, a broken valve, or a cut pipe mean that women suffer. Women immediately realise if something is malfunctioning. Having technical skills to repair the problem is a good starting point but access to the tools is as important as the skill. Such access can be provided by giving the female WSMC responsibility for the tools, or by providing some basic tools to the women tapstand caretaker. Turning full responsibility for the maintenance of the drinking water system over to women could be considered but it will be in addition to their already heavy workload. The combination of a male VMW and female tapstand caretakers has functioned very well.
• Need for gender awareness at village level.
In rural communities, task and role divisions are mostly based on traditional cultural and religious norms which are either taken for granted or are ingrained beyond change. In order to achieve gender balance throughout the implementation of the programme, a certain level of awareness of these deep-rooted divisions is required. Gender sensitisation training sessions during the preparation phase are a first step towards a deeper understanding of the background from which those set patterns have grown. Both men and women participate in these training sessions. Besides gender in general, specific attention is given to the gender roles in drinking water and sanitation during the implementation of a new drinking water and sanitation programme.
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