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Gender-responsive design of water and sanitation services

December 2021

A toolkit helping practitioners implement gender- and socially-inclusive participatory design of WASH infrastructure in informal settlements.


Much water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure is designed and built without whole-of-community input. This can have inequitable consequences, especially for women and marginalised groups, who are often more frequent users of water infrastructure, but less likely to be asked about design.

Ensuring everyone in a community is included in co-design is not easy, but Dr Becky Batagol from the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and Monash Faculty of Law, and Dr Sheela Sinharoy from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health are leading a team generating evidence-based resources for practitioners to improve gender-inclusive co-design of WASH infrastructure.

‘Gender and social inclusion have not been sufficiently mainstreamed in research and development programs from beginning to end,’ explains Sinharoy. ‘Our research project is producing evidence-based, practical tools for practitioners to implement gender-responsive design of WASH infrastructure interventions.’

The research, supported by the Australian Government’s Water for Women fund, is studying the gender- and socially-inclusive participatory design approach that RISE is using across 24 informal settlements in Fiji and Indonesia to develop sustainable water
and sanitation solutions.

Dr Batagol says diversity is infrastructure sustainability. ‘Designers need to think about how they can design the infrastructure lifecycle and the collaborative process to ensure as many people as possible support, understand, and can operate, maintain and repair the systems.’

For Batagol, RISE’s co-design activities are a valuable opportunity to assess what does — and doesn’t — work in co-design from an intersectional gender perspective.

RISE has used a variety of inclusion strategies, and emerging findings out of Indonesia show these inclusive co-design activities have had a meaningful effect on social dynamics in these communities.

The research has also helped focus RISE on having a diverse and inclusive team — important for community members to see and feel comfortable.

‘This research will benefit RISE, and also offer lessons and recommendations that will be much more widely applicable,’ Dr Sinharoy says.

Dr Batagol agrees, highlighting the potential for change at the macro level too. ‘We are sharing evidence that can be used freely by others in the sector, while also influencing policy at the local, national and global levels.’