The importance of understanding that one size does not fit all

Celebrating International Day of People with Disabilities | 3rd December, 2018

In India, Water for Women is partnering with Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) in partnership with Research Triangle Institute (RTI) in reaching some of India’s most at risk people with transformative WASH intervention programs in India’s urban slums.

In order to understand the challenges we are trying to address through the project, a collective search for an inclusive and gender-responsive water and sanitation programme for the urban poor and most vulnerable groups was undertaken in early November.

Facilitated by CFAR and RTI and supported by Water for Women, the one day Knowledge Camp was conducted with several participants including 19 Transgender persons, 35 Persons with Disability and the Elderly and 33 Adolescents with the support of the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation and Department of Social Security and Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SSEPD) and civil society organisations like Swabhiman, Sakha and Helpage representing persons with disabilities, transgender persons and elderly and a host of other CSOs and think tank bodies.

This Knowledge Camp was incredibly important in understanding the different needs and contexts of these vulnerable groups and providing a platform for their voices to be heard. Through this work, participants emphasised that one size does not fit all and the different challenges they face should be taken into account when designing solutions to WASH access.

This update highlights some of the learnings and outcomes from the Knowledge camp, also captured in this film.


What are the challenges faced by these groups?

Persons with Disability and Elderly

Persons with disability and the elderly must be enabled to access water and sanitation services with dignity. The challenges and concerns are numerous, from struggling with the toilet pan and unfriendly design to the stress that poorly planned services cause them and their caregivers.

Indian woman with a toilet that is difficult for her to use.
Indian women with a disability due to an accident

Purnabashi finds it difficult to sit on an Indian toilet. 

“I have fixed two bamboo sticks besides the pan to hold it for support. Only then can I use the toilet.’


Similar is the case with Pramodini, who met with an accident, causing her disability.

“I started using the toilet by raising the height by placing 4 to 5 bricks so that I can sit and stand with the help of this.  I feel it is not safe.”

When it comes to ensuring access for persons with disability and elderly, one size does not fit all, a principle that is particularly important for these marginalised groups.

Why?  Because every kind of disability and every elderly person faces different challenges and have different needs; all programmes and services must be aware of and consider the varied services, facilities, aids and support they need to ensure safe and comfortable access to these services.


Transgender Persons 

While transgender identity is a right affirmed and upheld by the Supreme Court in its NALSA judgement, transgender persons continue to be excluded from basic services.

Why? The exclusion by formal systems from family to school/college to healthcare to sanitation facilities is there for everyone to see. It is clear that wherever a transgender goes one basic facility they are denied is toilet, among many others. Such exclusion needs to be set right by the institutions governing these facilities.

Transgender women addresses workshop in India

"There are no toilets for transgenders in public places, in hospitals, police stations, courts, even government departments”

 Meera Parida-Treasurer, Co-founder, Sakha


For adolescents, particularly girls, poor sanitation services cause multiple indignities. It is important to recognise the development priorities and needs of adolescent girls. 

Why?  Faced with the challenges of becoming healthy, productive and purposeful adults they must be supported in their development; the latter includes right to survive, healthcare, life-skills, protection from early marriage and educational attainment to name just a few. 

School children facing teacher in a classroom

 “In our community toilet we don’t have enough water which makes it difficult especially during the days when you have periods.”


“The community toilet does not ensure privacy and safety so we always go with friends and they stay with us till we finish using it.”

By working together with all partners and listening to the needs of those we are trying to support through this project, participant partner organisations and institutions committed to achieving equitable, inclusive and gender sensitive access to WaSH services. 

The Knowledge Camp resulted in a Charter stating the Principles Affirmed and Practices to be Recognised that were launched during World Toilet Day celebrations and will inform the activities undetaken as par tof Water for Women.  

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