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Monash and Emory universities unite to advance gender-sensitive water research

Monash University and Emory University have announced a partnership to conduct research into gender-responsive design of water and sanitation services for the world’s most vulnerable and marginalised living in urban informal settlements.

The research will sit within the Monash-led RISE program, which is currently in its co-design phase in Makassar, Indonesia. In this phase, researchers are currently on the ground mapping out the upgrades to informal settlements alongside citizens, to ensure the upgrades are responsive and appropriate to the community’s needs. The process is being led by Project Investigators Research Fellow Dr Michaela Prescott and PhD candidate Dasha Spasojevic from Monash’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture.

Monash and Emory will take a closer look in to this community co-design process; by documenting and codifying empirical knowledge on the role, needs and priorities of women and girls during co-design, the research could re-shape urban water and sanitation interventions.

Gender specialist Dr Becky Batagol, Associate Professor at Monash’s Faculty of Law and the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, is the lead Chief Investigator on this RISE add-on project. Dr Batagol is passionate that gender-sensitive collaboration is critical when designing water and sanitation interventions in making sure that all community members have equal access to the investments in this sector.

‘This sub-study within RISE is an opportunity for us to better understand who these nature-based solutions are working for, to ultimately help improve access to the social and health benefits that these solutions offer,’ Dr Batagol explained.

‘Historically, WASH programs have been criticised for being gender-blind, meaning that they largely ignore gender norms in favour of a one-size-fits-all approach to providing WASH facilities. There is increasing awareness of the need for more gender-sensitive approaches based on different biological and social needs of women and men’.

Emory has been a RISE partner since the program launched in 2017, and is a global leader in the field of WASH research. Professor Tom Clasen, Professor of Environmental Health, and Dr Sheela Sinharoy, Postdoctoral Fellow, from Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, will lead the project alongside Dr Batagol, cementing the team’s international expertise.

‘The strength of this research is the interdisciplinary knowledge and experience in water, gender equality and design,’ Dr Sinharoy noted. ‘We are going to be approaching the process of participatory design from multiple perspectives, and our goal is to produce a toolkit for gender-inclusive co-design of water-sensitive solutions for urban informal settlements’.

The gender-sensitive water research is being supported by the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Water for Women Fund. Water for Women supports organisations to implement gender and socially inclusive WASH projects in South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

RISE Program Director Professor Rebekah Brown acknowledged that Australian government support comes at a crucial time as the RISE program commences co-design of the intervention, and that global partnerships are vital to tipping the scales towards better global health.

‘No one organisation, sector or actor can tackle global health and environmental challenges alone. We will be documenting and sharing evidence about what makes a good co-design process for water-sensitive revitalisation of informal settlements, which we hope will be used freely by others working to improve health, equality and wellbeing across Asia and the Pacific,’ Professor Brown said.

‘Targeted funding and research collaborations can allow us to scale up best practice in interventions, and ultimately influence policy at the local, national and global levels’.

Community co-design in Makassar, Indonesia.