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Water, sanitation and hygiene

Last edited: July 03, 2013

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  • Safe drinking water, proper sanitation and good hygiene practices are critical for survival in all stages of an emergency. Women and girls are often disproportionally affected by water and sanitation issues.  They tend to comprise the majority in displaced populations and are often responsible for collecting water for drinking, cooking and cleaning.  In some cultures, allocations of scarce food and drinking water go to men first, leaving women without enough for their daily needs (IASC, 2005).
  • Inappropriate design of water and sanitation programming can contribute to the risk of violence for girls and women.  For example, communal sanitation facilities and/or water resources placed at a far distance from homes can increase women’s and girls’ vulnerability to sexual assault.  In addition, tension between host and refugee/IDP communities over water resources can lead to violence against refugees/IDPs at water points (IASC, 2006). Where resources are distributed or managed by an authority, the possibility for abuse also exists.  For example, demanding sex for goods. 

Key Considerations in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

  • The IASC GBV Guidelines (p. 46-48) and GBV AoR tip sheets on Water Sanitation and Hygiene provide guidelines and recommendations to prevent VAWG in WASH programming.  In addition, the IASC Gender Handbook (p. 108-109) provides a checklist for ensuring gender-sensitive WASH programming, which can further assist in reducing women’s and girls’ exposure to violence. 
  • To minimize risks, it is important to actively seek women’s participation in water supply and sanitation programmes. Design of water and sanitation systems must be based upon sex-disaggregated gender analyses of community needs and assessments of potential security issues.  In addition to better design, other interventions might also be appropriate, such as providing escorts, accompaniment or arranging for group trips, among others.

Additional Resource:

See the water, sanitation and hygiene cluster website.