Apply Gender Lens For All WASH Programmes To Reduce SGBV Says UNICEF

AS the world grapples to contain the COVID-19 health crisis, a silent pandemic in the form of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) continues to roam around untamed. According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey of 2019, about one in every two women aged 15-49 in Zimbabwe had experienced emotional, physical and sexual abuse committed by the current or last husband/partner in their lifetime.

By Michael Gwarisa

To address the continued surge in GBV and SGBV cases, there is need to identify the loopholes and gaps that may be contributing to the continued occurrence and recurrence of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls. The issue of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) plays a key role in the GBV and SGBV equation. Without access to reliable clean and safe water as well as decent ablution facilities, girls and women remain exposed to the risks of abuse and sexual violence as they are forced to travel long distances to the nearest water points as well as use the bush as ablution

The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey of 2019 also noted that 22% of the entire Zimbabwean population were still practising open defecation, with Matebeleland North having the highest proportion of 60%. Of the households without water on premises, 87% in urban areas on average spent up to 30 minutes fetching water per day while in rural areas, 54% spent between 31 minutes to three hours.

In an interview with HealthTimes, United Nations Children’s Fund is a United Nations agency (UNICEF) Zimbabwe Chief of Communication, James Maiden said women and girls are disproportionately burdened with the responsibility of fetching water and this in the process exposes them to risks of sexual and gender-based violence.

The farther away from home a water source or place for defecation is, the higher the risks of sexual and gender-based violence that women and girls are exposed to. Effective gender-responsive programming can contribute to progressing gender equality and achieve sustained improvements in WASH access for women and girls. For instance, safe access to water collection points and toilets closer to homes or with adequate lighting, can significantly contribute to the prevention of GBV. 

“Ensuring that women and girls have an equal role in the design, management and monitoring of water and sanitation services combined with their meaningful participation in decision-making through water point committees, not only enhances the sustainability of water and sanitation infrastructure but also enhances attention to risks faced by women and girls whilst reducing the burden of water collection and providing options for dignified management of menstrual hygiene for girls and women,” said Maiden.

He added that UNICEF was encouraging the application of a gender-lens for all WASH programmes to identify gender-related WASH barriers and bottlenecks and seek opportunities to overcome them.

“The analysis of vulnerabilities and risks can also help to identify those most marginalized so that specific attention can be provided such as specific support for female headed households or women and girls with disabilities.  UNICEF is currently supporting a study on WASH and GBV in urban areas to understand experiences and impacts and develop key recommendations to inform action, policy, planning and appropriate designs of WASH programmes.

“In addition, there is a need to prioritise approaches that can achieve scale and ensure programmes have clear results on gender. For example, training provided in a cyclone recovery programme for WASH in Matusa in collaboration with CARE International specifically targets women to participate in latrine building and village pump mechanics so that norms are shifting towards meaningful participation of women in decision-making that affects their lives.”

Meanwhile, UNICEF has been involved in various WASH projects especially in rural communities and their interventions have greatly improved access to safe water and hygiene services.

[pullquote]“Improving access to safe water supply and adequate sanitation and hygiene are critical contributions to the health and well-being of communities. It reduces the risk of WASH-related diseases and hygiene improvements are a major contribution to the prevention of disease outbreaks and pandemics such as Covid-19.[/pullquote]

“Access to WASH services in communities in Zimbabwe has been gradually deteriorating over the years due to a lack of investments and attention to operation and maintenance.  UNICEF has been responding to these challenges through a number of programmes focusing on those most marginalized,” said Maiden.

Some of the flagship programmes implemented by UNICEF over the last years include the Small Towns WASH Programme implemented in 14 towns following cholera and typhoid outbreaks since 2008; the Rural WASH Programme implemented in 45 Districts since 2016; the Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Programme implemented in 8 cyclone affected districts; and numerous emergency response projects responding to typhoid/cholera, floods, droughts, Tropical Cyclone Idai including risk reduction and preparedness interventions.

“UNICEF is also championing the response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic such as through an integrated WASH/child protection initiative using mobile trucks for health and hygiene awareness messaging in high-risk rural and urban communities including attention to SGBV and violence against children.

“As illustration of improved gender roles, the Rural WASH Programme reached close to 5 million people through the rehabilitation of over 16,000 water points, drilling 1,600 boreholes and repair of 45 piped water schemes in targeted districts.  This has helped reduce the distance women travel to collect water and 96% of the water points have functional waterpoint committees in which 60% are women. The programme also provided over 1 million people with improved access to safe sanitation through supporting construction of  almost 200,000  household latrines (self-sponsored and subsidised).”

Through UNICEF’s interventions, a total of 3,803 villages were declared open defaecation free across the 45 districts. This according to Maiden provides dignity for women and girls who are now able to use latrines in private.

“In addition, 1,717 schools were supported with latrines providing dignity for girls and women to manage menstrual hygiene at schools and a total of over 800,000 people constructed handwashing facilities close to the household latrine.

“All interventions targeted the most vulnerable populations and prioritised the needs of women and children with improvements in village-level decision making. Communities are now able to contribute to operation and maintenance of WASH facilities and make management decisions through water point committees to ensure their functionality.”

UNICEF  also strongly advocated for community led sanitation approaches with households encouraged to take an active part in investment and construction of toilets. Vulnerable households are supported through subsidized latrines. The capacity of government counterparts has been strengthened so that WASH service delivery can be supported through planning, coordination and improved management of water supply systems.



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