Leaving no one behind for climate-resilient WASH in services and systems

A transgender activist holds a banner saying be the change you want to see. They stand in front of a crowd of people at a rally

Nothing about us without us

Insights from Water for Women partners and sexual gender minority (SGM) organisations and activists across Asia and the Pacific 

 

“Nothing about us without us” serves as an important reminder to us all in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector about our responsibility and accountability to everyone in the community. This goes to the very heart of community resilience. We cannot talk seriously about community resilience if we ignore the voices of those most impacted by climate change. It is surely these voices we need to hear most for the collective responsibility of building resilience together. This includes LGBTIQ+ people, whose issues are highlighted each year on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT).

 

“This involvement is crucial because SGM communities are among those most affected by climate risks and their impact on WASH, exacerbating exclusion and vulnerability. Whether it's access to safe water during flooding, toilet facilities in settlements, or even menstrual products during pandemics and disasters (especially for Transmen), the challenges are manifold.”

- Anirudh Singh Jadaon, State Rainbow Society, Jaipur India

 

And this is why this year’s theme for IDAHOBIT “No one left behind: equality, freedom and justice for all” is especially relevant. In many contexts, people of diverse sexualities and genders have for too long faced stigma and discriminatory norms, which have excluded them from access to basic services and decision-making processes. Leaving no one behind not only means ensuring a seat at the table, but also turning the table itself, so that the voices of the most marginalised are at the centre of decision-making, not only in matters that affect them directly but also in matters that seek to strengthen whole-of-community resilience.

 

“We the waria community are just like you. We love our families and the people of Ruteng. We work to afford a place to live and to put food on our tables. But we are also different from you, as we’re often ostracised and assaulted by society… We would like to be able to access clean toilets with running water to wash our hands. We would like the merchants and the people at the market to treat waria like a part of their community. We would like markets to be a safe space for everyone, including us …Together, let’s strive to create more accepting communities.”

- Members of the transgender and gender diverse community (known locally as ‘waria’) in Manggarai, Indonesia. (Excerpt from participatory film project 'Life Stories of Mangarrai Transwomen')

 

"My journey as a representative of the sexual and gender minority (SGM) group has been fraught with discrimination and struggle. Today, I embrace my identity as a person from the Sexual and Gender Minorities (SGM) group, with pride and determination, with no turning back. However, the majority of SGM communities still face exclusion in various sectors, particularly in accessing safe and inclusive WASH facilities. Our organisation is dedicated to addressing these societal and access-level barriers.” 

- Anirudh Singh Jadaon, State Rainbow Society, Jaipur India

 

On IDAHOBIT Day we acknowledge the resilience, strengths, and diversity of SGM people. Water for Women partners have important stories to tell about their engagement with SGM organisations and leaders, and how this has made a critical difference not only to the lives of SGM people but also to the WASH programs being delivered in communities.

 

Transgender women take part in a mental health workshop in Pakistan

Transgender women participate in an International Rescue Committee (IRC) program that focuses on life skills and mental health support in Peshawar, Pakistan

(Photo: IRC Pakistan/ Mansoor Alam Khatta)

Equitable and reciprocal partnerships have been key to drive this change

For the rightsholder SGM organisations involved, it has meant strengthened opportunities to meaningfully engage in WASH systems through multi-stakeholder forums to advocate for more inclusive access to WASH services.

 

"Our journey as SGM representatives has been marked by struggle, but today, we're driving change. Through our partnership with CFAR, we're advocating for inclusive climate resilient WASH access, addressing pressing needs like safe water during flooding and gender-inclusive toilet facilities. We are also championing access to menstrual products for Transmen during pandemics and disasters. Our participation in multi stakeholder national forums and Ward Committees amplifies community voices and influences policy and governance, ensuring marginalised groups have a seat at the table."

- Anirudh Singh Jadaon, State Rainbow Society, Jaipur India

 

And for the WASH organisations involved, it has meant strengthened awareness and understanding of LGBTIQ+ people on individual and organisational levels, and how to advocate for their rights to access WASH services and to support their inclusion in WASH decision making processes and programs.

 

“The partnerships and initiatives with the transgender groups established through our partnership with Edge Effect and Arus Pelangi not only resulted in social and institutional acceptance toward LGBTIQ communities but also improved organisational capacity for Plan International Australia (PIA) to work further with SGM groups and organisations in the future”.   

- Wahyu Triwahyudi, Plan International Australia

 

And at the Whole of Fund level, Water for Women has strongly benefitted from its partnership with Edge Effect, an Australian-based organisation that supports LGBTIQ+ inclusion in humanitarian and development programs globally. Having been a partner of Water for Women from its inception, they have supported the Fund at various levels, in terms of providing strategic advice, expertise and guidance in different areas of programming. Edge Effect has significantly contributed to strengthened awareness and competency on issues and rights relating to SGM people across the Fund, and this has made a real difference to how many partners think about SGM exclusion issues and how they can address these barriers safely within their own programming contexts.

 

"Too often LGBTIQ+ inclusion is little more than an afterthought. Perhaps just another acronym added to a long list of marginalised groups that might be consulted. Just a photo opportunity for a large development organisation once a year. By engaging Edge Effect at the beginning the Fund sent a message that it was taking LGBTIQ+ inclusion seriously. There is so much more to be done, including addressing the rights, needs and strengths of all parts of the LGBTIQ+ community, and doing this work in more contexts. And to work alongside LGBTIQ+ organisations and to recognize LGBTIQ+ people as agents of change. But the Fund has set a precedent that other development programs can follow."

- Emily Dwyer, Edge Effect


 

Transgender woman tells her story as part of a participatory video project

A transgender woman from Manggarai Indonesia, shares her powerful story of transitioning and living authentically as part of the 'Cerita Kehidupan Transpuan di Manggarai' (Life Stories of Manggarai Transwomen) video project.

(Photo: Life Stories of Manggarai Transwomen, Arus Pelangi and Edge Effect)


Inclusive approaches to support the voices of SGM people

Water for Women partners who have been working with SGM communities and partners apply multi-pronged and contextualised pathways to support their inclusion in WASH systems and services. Four such pathways are highlighted below:

 

  • Building confidence and skills. After years, or even a lifetime of experiencing exclusion and discrimination, many SGM people have missed out on opportunities for education and livelihoods.

In response, the IRC in Pakistan have supported the establishment of self-help groups and life skills training for SGM communities.

“The sessions opened my entire lifetime like a book, and I could read through each page. I recalled the problems I faced as a transgender person in and out of my family and I reflected about the decisions I made. We cannot change the past but perhaps there is always something we can do differently in the present day, no matter how vulnerable we are. I think I am more prepared for the challenges that life throws at me.” 

- Kontara, Transgender woman, and member of Self-Help Group (SHG), Bindiya Dera, Peshawar

 

  • Supporting livelihood and business opportunities. Due to discriminatory norms, many SGM people have limited economic and livelihood options which further exacerbates their vulnerability in the face of climate change.

To address these challenges, CFAR in India have been working with SGM leaders to be engaged in the WASH system at multiple levels, including in entrepreneurship opportunities.

“Turning fecal waste into resources: Collaborating with CFAR, the transgender community drives climate-resilient water, sanitation, and health initiatives. We utilise organic manure from Faecal Sludge Treatment Plants (FSTP) and employ cesspool vehicles, implementing a vermifiltration-based solution. Managed by transgender human resources, this comprehensive approach not only fosters sustainable waste management but also boosts livelihoods and urban household hygiene.”

- Meghna Sahoo, Transgender leader, manager of FSTP in Basuaghai, Odisha, Chairperson of Third Gender Welfare Trust

 

  • Supporting agency through a strong Do No Harm lens to partnership. Amplifying the voices and perspectives of SGM people can come at a cost because of pervasive discriminatory norms. The possibility of backlash should never be seen as a peripheral issue and must be pro-actively addressed.

For example, Plan International Australia (PIA) has engaged Edge Effect and local SGM rights organisation Arus Pelangi to undertake an intentional and reciprocal approach to partnership to ensure SGM people are engaged in ways that are respectful and safe:

“PIA worked through Edge Effect to engage with SGM organisations for the first time on WASH projects.  Participatory Action Research was most appropriate method to improve transgender groups’ agency as well as ensuring they are not exposed to any harm. Edge Effect and Arus Pelangi worked hard to ensure that the transgender community members were integral to the safety analysis and risk mitigations”.

- Wahyu Triwahyudi, Plan International Australia

"Water for Women funding provided a rare opportunity to work with the waria community in Manggarai for four years. We had time to get to know each other, to build trust, to address trauma, to learn together and to reach an outcome that exceeded the expectations of the waria community. PIA staff made that possible because they genuinely wanted us to succeed and provided us with the space to co-create a community-led project.” 

- Emily Dwyer, Edge Effect

  

  • Taking a strong systems approach to integrating SGM needs and interests in WASH. Supporting diverse voices in the system means creating opportunities and embedding strategies to enable more equitable governance structures and strengthening accountability mechanisms of duty bearers to rights holders, at both institutional and community levels.

CFAR India recognises the importance of this to ensure the rights and interests of SGM communities are integrated into WASH policy and governance processes, by supporting their meaningful and equitable engagement in multi-stakeholder forums:

“Our partnership with CFAR, within the context of climate-resilient urban WASH, has provided a platform at the city level, with safeguarding SGM rights to access inclusive WASH as one of the key goals. This partnership gained substantial momentum when SGM communities were actively involved as partners in sub-national level multi-stakeholder forums, engaging RHOs, CSOs, INGOs, and policymakers.

Representing ourselves and our organisation at the sub-national level forums marks a significant milestone, as it amplifies community voices and enables a deep dive into barriers at various levels. This facilitates the development of sustainable solutions to address WASH gaps for SGM communities, resulting in tangible changes in thought processes, policies, and implementation strategies.

Through these forums, we advocate for scaling up gender-inclusive toilet complexes across the city, ensuring they are SGM-friendly. Additionally, we've observed increased participation of SGM members in ward-level WASH local governance, with representatives from marginalised groups designated in Ward Committees.”

 - Anirudh Singh Jadaon, State Rainbow Society, Jaipur India


 

Transgender activists hold a rally for World Toilet Day in Indai

Transgender leader, Meghna Sahoo, and Chairperson of Third Gender Welfare Trust, speaks at a 2023 World Toilet Day event in India.

(Photo: CFAR Archives)

Not just a seat at the table….

Through developing these strong partnerships with SGM Rightsholder organisations (RHOs), the table is slowly turning. For the SGM organisations and communities involved, it can no longer be just about a seat at the table.

Genuine partnerships with SGM RHOs are at the heart of enduring change. These organisations have the potential to be far more than conduits and service providers. They are development partners with deep insights into context and priorities, deep networks in communities and accountability to those people. Shifting power and engaging with these organisations is essential for increased accountability in leaving no one behind and working towards more climate resilient WASH systems and services that support equality, justice, and freedom for all.

 

“Through the Water for Women project, Plan International Australia has its first experience working with transgender groups in Manggarai. We engaged Edge Effect and Arus Pelangi to support them to voice their concerns on climate change and access to WASH services through a long-term participatory action research project. Defending their rights on access to water and sanitation amidst the high sensitivity of LGBTIQ issues and obvious cultural barriers has made the work more challenging. PIA learned much from these partnerships and how to support approaches and measures that we have never done before in our previous projects. In the end, we are proud to see that the groups can voice their concerns out to wider societies and government officials in order to demand justice on access to WASH services”. 

- Wahyu Triwahyudi, Plan International Australia

 

“When we reflect on the benefits of partnering with the SGM leadership and organisations we find it enriches us in many ways. We not only understand the real significance of diversity but within the team and institution we are no longer limiting our thinking on gender to the conventional binaries and now recognising the importance of non-binaries in realising gender equality. In the context of climate-resilient WASH, it has deepened commitment to leaving no one behind and developing an inclusive approach which first and foremost recognises the importance of claiming and reclaiming identity, dignity and social justice to achieve true social inclusion”.

- Akhila Sivadas, Juhi Jain, and Ravie Kiran, CFAR India

 


This Insight was written collaboratively by Joanna Mott, Water for Women's GEDSI Adviser, in conjunction with Water for Women partners and SGM rights holder organisations across Asia and the Pacific. Contributors include Emily Dwyer, founder and director of Edge Effect; Wahyu Triwahyudi from Plan International Australia; Akhila Sivadas, Juhi Jain, and Ravie Kiran from CFAR India; Anwar Zeb and Madiha Mohsin from IRC Pakistan; Anirudh Singh Jadaon, Executive Member of State Rainbow Society; Meghna Sahoo, Chairperson of Third Gender Welfare Trust; Kontara and Bindiya Dera from Peshawar.
 
This Insight also features perspectives from members of the transgender and gender diverse community in Manggarai, Indonesia, excerpted from the participatory film project 'Life Stories of Manggarai Transwomen.'
 

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Water for Women, the Australian Government or our partners.

 


 

May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). This year's theme, "No One Left Behind: Equality, Freedom, and Justice for All," emphasises the urgent need for inclusion.

For sexual and gender minority (SGM) communities, access to basic water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services remains a significant challenge. This marginalisation extends to climate change preparedness, where SGM individuals face heightened vulnerability due to discrimination and lack of resources.

Water for Women stands firmly with SGM communities this IDAHOBIT and beyond. We recognise the importance of SGM voices in shaping solutions. Consulting with SGM rights holder organisations (RHOs) is critical; this ensures rights-based approaches, where solutions are created with SGM communities, not for them. This strengthens the "Do No Harm" principle by prioritising SGM safety and dignity.

WASH organisations must work with sensitivity and competency. SGM RHOs play a vital role in building this understanding and ensuring WASH services are truly inclusive. Development actors must also do their part. Enhancing their understanding of SGM identities within specific contexts is crucial, and partnering with local SGM organisations is key to achieving this.

Together, let's advocate for a future where everyone can access safe WASH services and build resilience to climate change. Let's commit to leave no one behind - to ensure equality, freedom and justice for all.

 

Header photo: SGM activist takes part in 2023 World Toilet Day event in India (Photo: CFAR Archives)

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