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Social Inclusion

Inclusion in water: breaking down barriers

Soma Ghosh Moulik's picture
Also available in: Español | Français

In many countries, women walk over six kilometers to collect water. Between 2006 and 2012 in Niger, women traveled an hour, on average, to fetch water. Worldwide, 4.5 billion people lack access to safely managed sanitation services and 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water services.
 
Yet even these large numbers and stunning statistics cannot fully reflect the reality for pockets of societies which bear the brunt of inaccessibility. Marginalized groups and low-income communities often lack basic water and sanitation to a staggering degree - a  recent World Bank study found that in Guatemala only 33 percent of the indigenous population have access to sanitation, compared to 77% of the non-indigenous population.
 
So, what does this mean for the water sector? Visibly, it is the case that water remains largely unsafe and inaccessible. Less visibly, it may also be the case that marginalized individuals and groups do not have voice or agency when it comes to managing water. As people are excluded based on facets of their identity - such as ethnicity, social status, gender, sexual orientation, or disability status – their obstacles to safe and accessible water remain unchanged and overlooked. With the previous numbers in mind, these cases make it all too clear that women and other marginalized groups are absent from decision-making roles. They reveal that water and sanitation all too often become conduits of exclusion and disparity.  It is time for the water sector to fully recognize and scrutinize the overlap between inclusion and water.
 
Social inclusion can involve one or a combination of factors that exclude people from markets and services. It is the path to ensuring that marginalized groups are given a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, inclusion is an important component of the work of the World Bank’s Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership (GWSP). The GWSP aims to deepen social inclusion in water through knowledge generation and curation, country engagements, learning, and stronger partnerships. Moving into its second year, GWSP has supported a number of initiatives and projects to help advance the inclusion agenda:

The tyranny of toilets

Maitreyi Bordia Das's picture
Students heads to a female only toilets in Maskoke Primely and Secondly School
in Gode Town in Ethiopia. Credit: UNICEF Ethiopia

In the lead-in to World Toilet Day, we hear a great deal about the role of toilets in sanitation and in better health and human development outcomes.  Toilets are good development. Period.
 
We hear less about the fact that toilets are often sites and instruments of social exclusion.
 
Let me explain.
 
Segregated toilets for males and females were intended to give women privacy and to respect the “intrinsic” physical differences between the sexes.  In fact, in most developing countries, segregated toilets are a sine qua non for female participation in public spaces, in education and in employment. 
 
But the story is more complex.