Providing community infrastructure - gender roles

Providing community infrastructure - gender roles

How can we balance gender roles in sanitation?


  • There is no universal “man” or “woman”. Gender-based roles and needs of women and men, girls and boys, often differ significantly when it comes to personal hygiene and sanitation. They vary based on the particular social environment and are established on the power dynamics of a society
  • Poor and inaccessible sanitation facilities impact the dignity, self esteem, and security of women
  • Sanitation can reinforce other inequitable social practices that most often undermine the position of women; for example, preferential access to education for boys over girls
  • The involvement of women and girls is crucial to effective sanitation projects. In developing countries they have the most responsibility for environmental sanitation and home health; therefore, their active involvement is needed for sanitation efforts to be successful – and without further adding to their burden


Karout N, Roles of Women/Women Association in Hygiene Education and Behaviour Change for Solid Waste Management Activities

WHO/Unicef JMP Report (2010)

Scale of the sanitation scandal

2.6 billion people globally live without ‘improved sanitation’, i.e. without sanitation that safely separates human excreta from human contact. 17% of the world population have no sanitation infrastructure whatsoever and defecate in the open fields, forests, bushes or bodies of water, or dispose of human faeces with solid waste. This figure is a massive 44% in Southern Asia (including 638 million people in India), and 27% in sub-Saharan Africa.

This has tremendous health implications, and can also make women more vulnerable to serious harm and abuse.

Remove obstacles that deny the rights of any gender

Sanitation can bring dignity and safety

In the community of Abayatir in Ethiopia, Serekelem Denkenhe, 30, speaks of the improvements she has experienced as a result of building a latrine:

‘Before we constructed a latrine, if we had to go, we had to find an open field and during the dark we were exposed to danger, especially women. In our culture a woman’s dignity means that if she needs to defecate she has to go early in the morning before 6 o’clock, when people wake from their beds. If you miss that time in the morning then you suffer all day.

‘Three years ago we built a latrine which has had huge benefits for us, in terms of cleanliness and privacy. Before, we would use stones rather than paper. Because the latrine is in my own compound I can use water to clean myself. These problems have been solved because of the pit latrine [and hygiene education].



Coates, S. (1999) A Gender and Development Approach to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Programmes, a WaterAid Briefing Paper

Tear Fund (2008) Gender and sanitation: breaking taboos and improving lives


  • Take gender roles and potential gender differentiated impacts into consideration in the design implementation and monitoring phases of sanitation projects
  • Dialogue on sensitive issues related to girls' hygiene should begin during the design phase and continue into the implementation phase of the project
  • Take advantage of participatory tools that exist to enable people to ‘talk excreta’ for the purpose of improving their sanitary life quality. For example, the ‘sanitation ladder’ and the ‘diarrhoea doll’ used widely in Southern and Eastern Africa
  • Raise awareness on health prevention and promotion, to improve and reinforce women’s education quality. This is a must in order to improve the health situation, and for a better quality of lifestyle
  • Approach gender and hygiene issues with an opportunity for men and women to have a role in the promotional work and division of responsibilities for family hygiene practices. This encourages shared decision making about resources and the needs of men and women are addressed relative to their own areas of skill, authority and responsibility