Initiating collective action to address diverse needs in WASH Services and infrastructure

a group of people sitting around a large board room table

To ensure everyone, everywhere has access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene it is fundamental to collaborate with gender focused organisations, disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and those representing other marginalised groups. This is a large focus for Water for Women partners who are working to ensure that their water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects reach all in community and meet the diverse needs of those within communities.


In January 2020, WaterAid Myanmar organised a meeting in Yangon with the aim of creating a space for collaboration and longer-term engagement in their Water for Women project to strengthen systems for inclusive WASH services in healthcare facilities (HCFs). Based on their own lived experiences and observations, 17 women and three men representing 16 organisations from different regions around Myanmar joined to share their reflections on the disproportionate impacts and challenges faced by women and girls, people living with disabilities and other marginalised groups.


“In villages in Ayeyarwady, women take responsibility and spend most of their time to carry water. So, sometimes they just bring water from the place nearby to save time and energy, though the water available there is not clean.”

- A representative from Ayeyarwady Youth Network


Some of the key challenges identified included public toilets not being constructed with accessibility for all people in mind, including in hospitals where the needs of pregnant women or people with disabilities were often neglected. Lack of public awareness on how to maintain personal hygiene, and lack of access to clean water and soap in public toilets were also recognised as problematic. There was a common understanding that budget allocations for inclusive and accessible toilets are currently not sufficient.


Participants highlighted the importance of community consultations before constructing WASH infrastructure and that by providing awareness on how to use the facilities and encouraging behaviour change around personal hygiene, these initiatives would be more sustainable in the long-term.


“Some projects build toilets… but did not give awareness on how to use these toilets properly. These toilets are locked and people are reluctant to use them… So, before installing toilets, it is better to consult with the community and listen to what they need and the design they are comfortable with.” 

- A representative from Women’s Organization Network


Group discussions focused on current challenges faced by marginalised groups in the community such as female migrant workers, adolescent girls and those identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) in accessing WASH services, as well as possible solutions to tackle the problems.


WaterAid will continue to engage gender organisations, DPOs and other marginalised groups to support collective efforts to address inclusive and user-responsive WASH services and infrastructure in Health Care Facilities.


Such approaches are critical to ensure that WASH infrastructure is designed well, will be used and is sustained long term. By bringing the voices and needs of the marginalised into the centre of design and delivery, we have the best chance of ensuring WASH for all that leaves no one behind.




Pictured: WaterAid holds Gender and WASH Working Group meeting with DPOs and Gender Organisation in Yangon, Myanmar. (WaterAid/Eaint Phu Myint Myat)

There are more than one billion people living with some form of disability. 80 per cent of them live in developing countries, and, globally, persons with disabilities experience disproportionate poverty. COVID-19 has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities faced by persons with disabilities. These include disparities in stigma and discrimination, access to health-care services, the digital divide, social protection and the risk of violence and abandonment - especially of those living in long- term care and institutionalized settings.

Women and girls, indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees, older persons and other marginalised populations are further exposed to intersecting risks. The pandemic can be an impetus to find new solutions for building more sustainable, inclusive and equal societies. Many hard-earned gains are now at a crossroad. It is, thus, imperative that disability-inclusion be an integral part of crisis response, recovery and “building back better.”



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