Inequity - a shared root cause of low access to sanitation services and violence against women

A blog by Deirdre C. Casella, Giacomo Galliand Alana Potter

IRC believes in a world where water, sanitation and hygiene services are fundamental utilities that everyone is able to take for granted, forever. We work with people around the world to find long-term solutions to the global crisis in water, sanitation and hygiene services. At the heart of our mission is the aim to move from short-term interventions to sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services, for everyone, everywhere.

In Development as Freedom , Amartya Sen proposes the notion that we view development ' a process that expands the freedoms that people enjoy ' (Sen, 1999, p. 3).Sen further proposes that ' [d]evelopment requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation [and] neglect of public facilities... ' (Sen, 1999, p.3).In keeping with this take on development as an expansion of people's freedoms and capabilities , IRC wholeheartedly supports the global effort to increase people's access to the fundamental human right to safe, hygienic sanitation facilities and services.

It is an undeniable truth that things are not as they should be in terms of levels of access to sanitation facilities, much less services, for much of the world's population. By one estimate, 2.5 billion people do not use an 'improved sanitation facility', and approximately 1 billion people still practice open defecation (UNICEF, 2011). These figures are unacceptable by any measure.However, a recent article on The Guardian news website struck a discordant note for some of us.

We are concerned by the tone of the article which seems to subsume the pervasive societal ailment of violence against women, and specifically rape in this case, under the urgent need to promote public attention to the global sanitation crisis.As with the dire situation with regards to access to sanitation facilities, it is an undeniable truth that vulnerable and marginalised people - due to their socio-economic status, sex, age, physical ability, or other contextually specific factors such as caste or ethnicity - are exposed to circumstances that render them even more vulnerable when they must venture from the relative safety of their homes (provided they are not being violated by someone within their homes) to practice open defecation. As the World Health Organization notes, 'one in three women will experience physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in her life' (WHO, 2013).

However, the lack of access to safe sanitation and water facilities is only one facet of the endemic problem of violence against women. It is one factor that makes women vulnerable to violence, but it is neither a cause, nor a form, of violence - see the below diagram on this latter point.

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