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The SHARE Research Consortium - funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development - has recently launched the Violence, Gender and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) Practitioner's Toolkit, featuring contributions from a wide range of professionals, including WaterAid.
The toolkit encourages organizations and governments delivering water, sanitation and hygiene services to improve their understanding of the risks to women's personal safety and security, contribute to their reduction in practical ways, and strengthen linkages with those working in protection, gender-based violence and women's empowerment.
A lack of access to a basic toilet in or near the home or poor access to water supply can lead to women and children defecating in the open after dark or having to walk long distances to collect water. Both can increase their vulnerability to harassment and violence, including sexual violence. This is known to occur in many different countries and contexts around the world.
Recently, the world was shocked when two teenage girls in the Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh, India were viciously attacked and murdered after they reportedly went out to relieve themselves in a field because there was no toilet in their home.
Lisa Schechtman, Director of Policy and Advocacy at WaterAid America, and one of the toolkit's contributors, commented:
"The recent murder of two schoolgirls in India, who were thought to be from a Dalit community, highlights how vulnerable women and girls are to attack when they lack access to water supplies and toilets close to home. Women and girls need to be actively involved in the delivery of water, sanitation and hygiene programs, so that their safety needs can be clearly identified. Giving women and girls position of responsibility often improves their status in the community, which can also reduce their vulnerability to violence."
The toolkit does not take away from the essential need for wider societal change to tackle the underlying causes of violence including gender-based violence.While poor access to water and sanitation services can increase vulnerabilities to violence, the differences in social power between males and females is the fundamental reason that gender-based violence exists in all countries. This is further exacerbated for females or others who may be particularly vulnerable due to their social grouping, age, disability or other factors.