Long Read

Water & Sanitation

A holistic approach

water and sanitation

Water and sanitation are each recognised as fundamental human rights and incorporated in the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. Water and sanitation are recognised as essential conditions for a healthy life and are usually combined with Hygiene (WASH).

WASH is a key public health issue within international development and is the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6). This goal aims at equitable and accessible water, sanitation and hygiene for all, and target 6.2 specifically mentioning women and girls. We recognise that women have different needs and priorities than men. Moreover, due to gender roles, women and girls are disproportionally affected by insufficient access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

Due to their interdependent nature, Simavi uses a holistic approach and we ensure water, sanitation and hygiene interventions are combined in our programmes. Through this approach, we work towards sustainable services that are adequate, accessible, safe, acceptable and affordable for all without discrimination, and violations of these constitute a violation of women’s rights.

Water and sanitation: key for a healthy life

Women and girls face different challenges in terms of access and use of water and sanitation. During their menstruation, they face different challenges and have specific needs to water, sanitation and hygiene and require more water and women-friendly toilets, to practice Menstrual Health with dignity.

Access to water and sanitation is also crucial to ensure Maternal Health. Pregnant women lacking safe water are more prone to water-related illnesses. And during delivery, insufficient water and sanitation, places mothers and children at risk. Without safe water, toilets and soap or other disinfectants, healthcare workers cannot adequately follow infection prevention protocols. Women are often asked to bring their own water for their delivery in a health clinic. And, collecting and carrying water while pregnant can cause difficulties, and other reproductive health consequences. Specific procedures such as medical abortion and post-abortion care in health facilities also require proper water, sanitation and hygiene services to avoid risks of infection.

Due to current gender roles and gender inequality, women face specific challenges in terms of access and use of water, sanitation and hygiene services. Women and girls are often responsible for fetching water for their family, taking several hours a day. This negatively impacts school attendance, and leave women vulnerable to harassment or violence due to the often long walks to water points, the use of shared toilets, and/or practise open defecation. The shame and indignity of defecating in the open negatively affects women’s self-esteem and bodily integrity, as does a lack of water for washing clothes and personal hygiene.

Decision making in WASH services: nothing about us without us

Women are the main users of water and sanitation and yet, men tend to be the main decision-makers of these topics. As a result, water, sanitation and hygiene services often don’t respond to the needs and priorities of women and girls. Their involvement in decision-making about water, sanitation and hygiene is critical to their empowerment and it gives them the opportunity to pursue their rights to water and sanitation.

Including women in designing services and products and involving them in all stages of programme planning, implementing and monitoring lead to more efficient, effective and sustainable services. And, it is important to acknowledge that water, sanitation, hygiene, and the related roles are part of a more complex set of gender roles and inequality. We take this into account in our programmes and test assumptions. A more equal distribution of household tasks, like collecting water, would allow for women’s and girl’s equal participation within, and outside the household. Through our inclusive, and women-centred approach, Simavi ensures that women and girls are involved in every stage of our programmes, which helps us to respond to their specific needs and priorities.

Ensuring sustainability in water, sanitation and hygiene services

Sustainability and empowerment are key aspects in our work. To ensure sustainability of water, sanitation and hygiene services, we work towards a system change, and sustainable sector development. We have moved away from short-term and hardware focused interventions, towards more resilient and inclusive systems and services. Ensuring interventions sustain after programmes have ended, we have identified five key areas to achieve this: Financial, Institutional, Environmental, Technological and Social Sustainability. Simavi’s FIETS sustainability approach.

Access to WASH: a rights-based approach

Realisation of the universal right to water and sanitation requires a concerted effort of duty bearers and rights holders. Government, private sector and civil society each have a role to play to create access to water and sanitation. It is also important that women, girls and their communities exercise their rights and take their responsibilities, such as paying for use of safe water and sanitation and taking up roles in operation and maintenance. Simavi ensures women and girls are empowered, are aware of their rights and how to pursue these, using social accountability methods. Through this, communities, authorities and service providers come together to break down social barriers and improve ineffective policies on water, sanitation and hygiene.

Read more about our work on water & sanitation:

water and sanitation wash sdg

Start the conversation

Share this article

Related stories