Gender and Sanitation

  • IASbaba
  • March 10, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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  • GS-1: Social empowerment
  • GS-2: Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections. 

Gender and Sanitation

Context: The sustainable development goals (Target 6.2) require India “by 2030, to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

Women, Sanitation and Swachh Barat Abhiyan

  • Gender sensitive objective: The Swachh Bharat Grameen Phase I guidelines (2017) state that “requirements and sensitivities related to gender, including dignity and safety issues, are to be taken into account at all stages of sanitation programmes from planning to post-implementation.”
  • Guidelines w.r.t gender dimension: The department of Drinking Water and Sanitation released the guidelines, recognising the gender dimensions of sanitation in India. It emphasised not only the need for women’s participation in planning and implementation of sanitation interventions but also “their leadership in SBM-G committees and institutions”.
  • Guidelines to States: The states were accordingly expected to ensure adequate representation of women in the village water and sanitation committees (VWSCs), leading to optimal gender outcomes. The SBM-Grameen guidelines (Phase I) specifically recommended that 50 per cent of the members of VWSCs should be women.
  • Women for behavioural change: The government has also very effectively used over 8 lakh swachhagrahis, mainly women, who for small honorariums work to push through behavioural change at the community level.

Challenges Involved in Gender and Sanitation

  • Risks Involved with Open Defecation: Women face threats to their life and feel unsafe while seeking a toilet facility or while going out for open defecation. This leads to the consumption of less food and water by the women to minimize the need to exit the home to use toilets.
  • Disproportionate burden on women: The desire for privacy during bathing and defecation is different in the case of girls and women than men. Thus, the non-availability of proper sanitation facilities creates a helpless situation for females and leads to the risk of faucal-orally transmitted diseases, urogenital tract infections, urinary incontinence, and chronic constipation.
  • Weak Participation and Proxy for men: In practice, the promoters of swachhta rarely encourage women to participate in water and sanitation committees, which does not guarantee their participation. There were inevitably cases where women were fronts for spouses.

Way Ahead

  • Continued Behavioural Change: Information, education, and communication, which aims at behaviour change of the masses, is key to the success Swachh Bharat Mission 2 .0 . The mission speaks of sustained behavioral change while embarking on the newer agendas of sustainable solid waste management and safe disposal of wastewater and reuse.
  • Financial and Livelihood Linkage: There is need to interlink Sanitation & Hygiene with Livelihood: The India Sanitation Coalition has helped link micro-finance with self-help groups run by women for sanitation needs. 
  • Tracking Gender Outcomes: Gender analysis frameworks in development practice supports design, implementation, and measurement that can bridge the gender equality gap in sanitation. A national monitoring and evaluation system to track and measure gender outcomes in SBM is necessary.
  • Gender Sensitization & Training: There is a need for effective communications and training programs to build the capacity of stakeholders on gender targeting, both on the supply and demand sides of interventions.
  • Involving Civil Society: Besides the government, the role of non-state actors, including that of institutions like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Unicef and several NGOs, must be lauded as we pursue sustainable sanitation using a powerful gender lens. 


There is no doubt that women can help to drive change and bring about lasting change as the jan andolan for swachhta, health and sanitation gains momentum.

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