"Women, Water and Waste: Key(s) to Development," Presented at the Symposium Local Decade: Men, Women and Agencies in Wat...


Material Information

"Women, Water and Waste: Key(s) to Development," Presented at the Symposium Local Decade: Men, Women and Agencies in Water and Development, Sponsored by the International Reference Centre for Community Water Supply and Sanitation, Amsterdam, June 20-22, 1984 (18 pages)
Series Title:
Series 3: Appropriate Technology
Physical Description:
Mixed Material
Elmendorf, Mary L. (Mary Lindsay)
Publication Date:

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the submitter.
System ID:

Full Text


Mary Elmendorf
Consulting Anthropologist

to be presented at
the symposium

Men, Women and Agencies in Water
and Development

sponsored by

IRC (International Reference Centre
for Community Water Supply and Sanitation)

Amsterdam, the Netherlands
20-22 June 1984

UNDP project INT/83/003 Promotion and Support of

Women's Participation in the International Drinking Water

Supply and Sanitation Decade (IDWSSD) is based on the pre-

mise "that increased involvement of women will improve

the impact of the IDWSSD activities on the health and

welfare of families in the more disadvantaged sectors of

the population (and by implication, the well-being of the

women themselves)."

As noted in the background paper for this conference

such involvement will also "help women to gain more respect

and to become (more) valued members of their communities

and also . enhance their self awareness and their

position in society I think however that these personal

results are much less important to the women and the world

than the fact that the women through their participation in

improvement in water and sanitation can become key parts

of integrated community action for social and behavioral

changes which can increase the health impacts and simultaneously

the quality of life for their families. At the 1975 UN

Conference in Mexico Ciy, the women from the developing

countries made it very clear and have reiterated often at

followup meetings that their first concerns are with

improving the situations in their homes and communities.

In many parts of the World both "basic needs" (services)

- 2 -

and appropriate technology are still daily concerns,

particularly of the women. A vicious circle keeps many

women coping daily for water fuel food and

shelter. Often there is not enough time to learn how to

break the circle through more appropriate technologies,

such as improvements in water and sanitation. And this is

the focus of the talk today.

Some reports noted that the positive health impacts

of water and sanitation projects could only be achieved

in areas with medium incomes and literacy. Such limitations

are unacceptable to many of us because too many people

would be left out of that process. Too many of the millions

of babies dying each year would continue to die. Can

women, water and waste (sanitation) be keys to development?

If so, how?

In the following diagram the intra-inter-relationship

of women to the basic services is clear. Today we will

examine women as the focal point, where all the sectors

interlock in reality the role most rural and many urban

women play in their homes and communities. Using this as

a model we can discuss Where/how our projects relate to

others and what we can learn/share. From the beginning

we would point out that we are not discussing "women's

activities" as separate, but attempting to focus on women










Source: Adapted from Community Development Department, Ministry
of Interior, Thailand, Annula Report, ASEAN-WID. July

- 4 -

as partners in community participation no longer the in-

visible actors.

In order to discuss this we need to do two things:

(1) review some of the material in the INT 83/003

collection on women which was not specifically focused

on water supply and sanitation to point out their importance

and relevance.

(2) make some generalizations about how women,

water and sanitation can be keys to health and integrated.

development, a missing element in much other sector planning.

Fields of Women's Studies related
to Water and Sanitation

We need to examine existing studies and reports to

recognize constraints to better involvement of women and see

how women's participation has been obtained, can be increased,

and how to measure beneficial impacts to women and their

communities. We need to look at impact in broader terms

than health or income. We need specific case studies -

national and sectoral. We also need careful baseline data

and longitudinal thorough project evaluation.

We can look for some of our answers in a number of

closely related fields which have sprung up during the

last decade in which women's studies have been given new

importance as illustrated in Chart I on the following page.

- 5 -

We can thus select useful concepts, methodologies and find-

ings on which we can build our own action research and

and projects. In some of the literature water and sanita-

tion may not be mentioned specifically but relevant ap-

proaches or techniques can be immediately useful or may

need modification to fit the culture and/or the project.

The last category of Chart I, Women, Health and

Development, is the most integrated approach and if inter-

preted broadly can encompass most of the sectors where

water and sanitation are, or should be, included as an in-

tegral part of planning with women acting as the key planners

and implementors. In the last few years a number of agencies,

including WHO/PAHO and research institutions have moved in

this direction with new policies and strategies being tested.

In fact the PAHO workshops involving a woman defined as the

focal point within the Ministry of Health, a representative

of an indigeneous organization and the PAHO representative,

usually a man, have had very interesting results. In many

ways the consciousness raising has been on the part of the

men who have become aware of new opportunities for change.

A dialog has started at the national level.

- 6


Fields of Women's Studies
Related to Water and Sanitation


Women & Development

Women & Health

Women & Technological
Change (To Meet
Basic Needs)

Women & Education/

Women & Community

Women, Health &


Roles, Status
Time-use Allocations

Primary Health Care
Maternal Child Health
Diarrhoea Prevention & Cure
Oral Rehydration Therapy
Hygiene Education
Environmental Health


"Learning by doing"
Participation, Planning Action
and Evaluation

Defining Felt Needs

Combining the above approaches

Source: Elmendorf, "Pertinent Research: Generalizations and
Linkages Drawn from a Preliminary Review of the
Literature on Women in Water and Sanitation," pre-
sented at the INSTRAW Interregional Seminar Cairo,
Egypt March 12-16, 1984

- 7 -

Relevant Sectors

We also need to identify linkages between women, water

and sanitation with other sectors of wider interest, such

as income generation, rural development, nutrition, dehy-

dration, housing, irrigation, etc.

Among the most important relevant sectors with strong

linkages to water and sanitation are those listed in Chart

II, page 8. Two important sectors are omitted from the

chart: population and energy.

Population: At a May 1984 World Bank seminar, Mechai V.

made a strong case for linkages between water and sanitation

and family planning based on the experiences in Thailand.

Two specific points were the incentives developed for

improving water and sanitation by careful family planning

and the rewards given to water meter readers delivering

family planning messages. Family planning is seen as a

integral part of any development plan, with awards for

individuals, families and communities. Family resources,

including water, must be shared.

Energy: Another important linkage when we are think-

ing about basic needs for the poorest of poor is energy -

household energy for cooking food and boiling water -

if there is enough fuel. And we have more and more reports

- 8


Water and Sanitation and Related Sectors


Use of space
Personal hygiene
Environmental health


Food and Agriculture

Irrigation/Human Welfare




Wastage )
Mal absorption ) Diarrhoea

Changing old patters of work,
storage, preparation

Domestic uses of water
Re-use of water and excreta

Income generating

Technically appropriate
Socio-culturally acceptable
Affordable financially

Community participation

Source: ibid.



- 9 -

In fact if we are thinking of families coping for survival

we can see the priorities in this way: Water Food Fuel -


And often women and girls are given the daily tasks

of finding the first three. Escreta disposal, or sanitation

is not a priority need but traditional behavior is established.

In previous papers I've pointed out the important linkages

between fuel and sanitation as biogas for home cooking

and lighting in the Chinese fashion is introduced in various

development projects. (Thailand, Honduras) And reuse of

human excreta as fertilizer for plants to sell or eat and

trees for fuel is increasingly accepted as composting toilets

become better designed and are known rural areas.

Time and Energy

Since one of the primary objectives of the sympoium

is to indicate the constraints to greater involvement of

women in water supply and sanitation, it seems that we must

start with the assumption that women must have more time

and energy if they are .to be frontline health workers in

primary health care programs, managers of their households,

and trainers of their families. As increasing recognition

is given to the important roles of women in the performance

of their multiple roles in home and community, equal recogni-

tion must be given to the time and energy needed to carry

- 10 -

out these roles. In fact the possibility of carrying out

income generating activities even of obtaining training

and/or funds is often impossible without time and/or


Income Generation Employment

Various agency people such as Dr. Pairat Decharin

of the Community Development Department in the Ministry

of Interior of Thailand, Titi Memet, UNICEF Director for

Asia and the Pacific, and Vinitha Jayasingh, Director of the

Women's Bureau is Sir Lanka have observed that efforts to

improve sanitation and health can be more successful if

preceded by income-generating activities.

There are however few longitudinal studies which

address this issue at the subsistence or near-poverty level

where most of the IDWSSD projects will be concentrated. In

Nepal such data has been collected and analyzed. In Women

and the Subsistence Sector: Economic Participation and
Decision-Making in Nepal, Acharya and Bennett noted:

The need to use income generation as an entry
point can hardly be overemphasized. For most
women participation in traditional programs in
health and family planning, education, nutrition
and child care, etc., is a luxury they cannot
afford. Unless the time women spend aware from
household and agricultural chores can bring in
some visible contribution to family income,
neither they nor their households will feel
that the time is justified. Time is in fact a

- 11 -

crucial issue for women. With an average female
work burden of 10.81 hours per day (compared
to 7.51 for men) rural women have no "spare"
time. Hence, workload of women, as well as the
seasonal variation in their work loads and
their daily activity schedule should be kept
a~ in mind and efforts to develop labor-saving
village technologies should be intensified. . .

This is the crucial point at which more accessible

water, as a time and labor saving technology, can make a

difference to women's status, roles and health but there

is very little research to document this. There are some

projects which show that when income-generating activities

are made available in combination with the introduction of

labor-sav,ing village technologies time and energy can be

channelled into more productive activities. Acharya and

Bennett also pointed out that "women's increased visible

contribution to the household especially if it is in the

form of cash, usually brings them greater decision-making

power in domestic allocations of funds" which means that

women potentially can influence spending of money for

operation and maintenance of water supply and sanitation

systems. Not only are their findings relevant to our

problems but the excellent research tools and techniques

they developed are equally useful.


Better nutrition is often seen as a strategy to improve

health and energy. As was pointed out at a 1982 symposium

- 12 -

"Women, Health and International Development" introducing

improved diets, more and better food often does not bring

about the desired improvements in nutritional status because

of the continuing burden of infections and infestations.

Many of the researchers and field project,personnel work-

ing in food and agriculture would welcome cooperative projects

with INT/83/003 since they are aware of the "water supply-

nutrition linkages." They have developed relevant field

techniques for testing improved nutrition but a very

significant variable which skews their results is continued

diarrhoga often water-related.

Improvements of water supplies can affect nutrition

and/or energy availability through various eh"nisms,

Increased household fo can become available through home

gardens, animal husbandry, or by cash income. With more

accessible water sources, women can use their time saved for

more efficient household management or storage, processing,

distribution of food and more attention to child feeding.

Energy expended by women and children in water drawing and

carrying could be reduced by more accessible water sources.

Last, but not least, the reduction of chronic and acute

infections with infestations could reduce the wastage of

nutrients with resulting lowered energy availability.

Projects to test this are needed.

- 13 -


Closely related to nutrition is the dimunition of water-

related diseases especially diarrhoea which results in part

from scarce water for personal hygiene. Women who care for

and feed young children have been shown to have increased numbers

of pathogens on their hands, making them at risk for disease

transmission to both themselves and their families.

Whether through excess energy and time expenditures

in water seeking or through infections acquired in water

contact, water consumption, and through lack of water for

personal hygiene, multiple health constraints on the ability

of women to contribute to the economic and social well-being

of their families and communities arise. And often the

women are unwilling carriers of pathogens. At the 1983 Inter-

national Conference on Oral Rehydration Therapy (ICORT)

there were four days of sessions primarily on curative

approaches to dehydration with women as the administrators

of the curative salts. Little attention was given to com-

bining preventive messages with the instructions or con-

sidering the time being required of women to carry them

out. If IDWSSD is to help combat the greatest killer of

children infant diarrhoea more positive linkages must

be made between the on-going research and programmes in the

- 14 -

field of diarrhoeal diseases control and women involvement

in DECADE activities.


Poor housing with its often accompanying poor sanita-

tion and water supply is a concern of the IDWSSD. Several

conference proceedings including the 1983 Bangkok Seminar

on Human Waste Management for Low Income Settlements and the

Asian Pacific Center for Women and Development's report on

Environmental Issues Affecting Women with Particular Reference

to Housing and Human Settlements are pertinent.

Some emphasis has been given to urban housing, but

a closer look at rural housing is needed with the total

living space patio or compound observed to plan with

women and families on how to site improved services. The

whole cycle of behavioral change needs to be discussed and

planned for. The appropriate ancillary equipment is an

integral part of the improvements in water supply and

sanitation. Often technicians and planners assume that com-

munities have what is needed and know how to use the improved

facilities. To give an example, the complete chain from Fece

to hand washing, to soap to drying, to appropriate disposal

of cleansing materials and sullage is often assumed. The

linkages between behavior and technology must be stressed

and incentives for change provided.

15 -

Techn-d Change/Development

All improvements in water supply imply technological

and behavioral change. Since some of the greatest needs of

the IDWSSD are those involving portage, storage and improve-

ments in utilization of water along with behavioral changes

in defecation patterns, "appropriate technology" must not be

left completely with the engineers and planners. To ignore

discussion of "appropriate technology" and women's roles in

relationship to its design and use would be negligent.

Appropriate is the process not just the technology. It is

not a type of technology but a kind that fits the local

needs and local needs must be articulated. Real need

moves from desire to demand. Articulation of need and

participation define appropriateness. Access to channels

of knowledge facilitates articulation. And two-way com-

munication, or dialogue, is necessary to assure that the

technology fits the local specifications physical, eco-

logical and cultural. And then incentives and motivations

can be developed.

Domestic Uses of Water in
Irrigation Schemes

Closely related to our discussion of technological

change is the phenomena of irrigation schemes where the

major emphasis is on increased agricultural production -

often for income rather than food production. During recent

- 16 -

years there has been increased concern with the impact

of these resettlement projects on the human welfare of

the resident populations. Often irrigation schemes con-

sidered financially successful have caused negative impacts

on the household economy. Jane Hanger's excellent 1973

analysis, "Women and the Household" in Mwea: An Irrigated
Rice Settlement in Kenya, is included in the 1984

bibliography as is Jennie Day's "Gambian Women" Unequal

Partners in Rice Development Projects?"

It is interesting to observe the increased awareness

of the non-agricultural especially domestic uses of

irrigation water and women by FAO and the World Bank.

Several workshops including a recent one at Rutgers Uni-

versity and earlier conferences sponsored by the Agricul-

tural Development Council and the Ford Foundation explored

the ways domestic water supply and sanitation could be

piggy-backed to or integrated with large irrigation schemes.

In Sri Lanka the Zonta/UNICEF project in the Mahaweli

Scheme is focused on improving domestic water and sanitation

with women as participants and beneficiaries. When the

Women's Bureau started organizing the female settlers in 1980

the lack of sanitary facilities and the use of polluted irriga-

tion water for domestic purposes was noted as negative im-


- 17 -


In concluding, I want to make it clear that I fully

realize that this paper represent my own interests and biases.

Each of you will hopefully have new links to add and may wish

to eliminate some I've included. I do however want to come

back to the importance of linkages.

By suggesting that we place INT/83/003 and IDWSSD

within a broad contextual framework of women in development

and in new approaches to research on community participation

and communication, hopefully we will be able to demonstrate

particular linkages of women's roles in water supply and

sanitation to: better nutrition, to improved health, to

better housing, to increased energy and to higher quality of

life with sustained economic productivity. By an integrated

approach to community-defined needs women, in groups and

singly, will be motivated to adopt new patterns of behavior

and attitudes so that the active and passive layers of

women's participation in various sectors will be streng-

thened. Peer support will serve to help establish new

attitudes and behaviors..-Activities which synergistically

will improve the health and welfare of women and their families

in the most disadvantaged sectors of the population can be-

come possible through improvements in water and sanitation.