Phot by Ilana Rose, World Vision
In 2010, I was asked to help conduct a Gender Assessment for an Australian-funded DFAT water, sanitation and hygiene (RIWASH) project to be implemented in selected tea estates in Central Sri Lanka. It is a project that aims to connect disenfranchised communities with each other and to the local government, and plantation management using community-based and demand-responsive WASH services as a vehicle for building partnerships and promoting healthy, safe, and productive rural populations.
In the Gender Assessment, we were able to listen to women’s, men’s, boys’ and girls’ voices about gender issues affecting them. Women shared that they have to wait in queues to collect water every morning at a water source that is shared by many households. This leads to frequent quarrels with neighbours about water. Women are always late for work and they get pay deducted because of this. On top of this, women need to look after children and members of the family who are sick mainly from water-borne diseases. In our conversations with girls, they identified that there were incidents when men and boys take photos and videos of them taking baths in the stream which is right next to a street. Even if they go in groups, the incidents happen.
Five years later, I was very fortunate to be able to come back and visit them again. The project team had arranged a few hours of meeting with the project stakeholders. And I found myself in a room with estate managers, a government leader and staff, women and men in the community. This is a picture of what the project has contributed: stakeholders are now discussing community issues amicably.
Our conversation revolved around reflecting on what benefits they are now experiencing as a result of improved water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. These are some of the highlights of our reflection:
The women said: “We are happy that we have individual water connections and taps inside our homes. Our drinking water is not contaminated anymore. Our health improved. There are no quarrels with the neighbours and within our homes. Since we don’t need to wait in queues to collect water in the morning, we now go to work on time and we receive our full pay because of this. With access to water, we have also built a bathing space inside our houses. Our children don’t need to go to the stream to take a bath where they don’t have privacy when bathing.”
The men said: “Before there were domestic issues because women were not able to do their jobs at home. Now there is more social harmony within our homes. In two and a half years, there were no reported incidents of domestic violence within our estate”. Interestingly, one man shared that some men are now helping with the washing of the clothes but they only do this inside their houses.
When I asked the estate managers, what it meant for them to have better WASH facilities in the estate, they shared that women are happier when they go to work. “They come to work on time now. We don’t need to deduct a portion of their salaries for being late. Workers (specifically women) are not often sick anymore. The productivity of the estate has improved as a result of this. There is less stress in our work now. We have not called the police to settle domestic disputes for two years.”
Even the government staff who were present see the benefit that our project has contributed to their work. They shared that with the partnership with World Vision, they can work with the estate management and the community more openly. “We can easily go to the community to do our work. There is good relationship between us and the community now. It is easier to discuss things with the community especially women. They are now coming out to raise their concerns.”
In my visit to a school, I asked the girls what does it mean for them to have access to WASH facilities ? They happily shared that they can go to school every school day even when they have their menstrual period. “When there were limited toilets and water and not much support from the school around access to pads, we didn’t go to school when we had our period . But now we are happy that we can go to school every school day.” The girls and boys said that “we go to school with clean clothes and have had baths because we have bathing places inside our homes”. Going back to the question of have we contributed to improving the lives of women, men, boys and girls? In this case, yes, we did!