This past week I participated as the organizer and one of the facilitators, together with experts from the Gender and Water Alliance (GWA), in a capacity building workshop for mainstreaming gender in the water and sanitation (watsan) program in which I have been involved for the past nine months. In this third post on the topic of gender and water I will explain this experience, which represents a very important moment in the series. In the past two posts I described, first, the link between gender and water, and second, the profiles of some of the people that have been identified as key allies for mainstreaming gender in the watsan program.
Five staff from the program’s national counterparts and twelve gender-sensitized/committed people from rural communities that my colleagues and I identified participated in the above-mentioned workshop with the aim of developing the tools and arguments they will need when supporting the gender approach in the program’s activities. As I explained in my past post, these twelve people will participate in the meetings held within each province’s decision-making platform. These provincial platforms are the spaces through which decisions are made in regards to the program’s local allies, who benefit from capacity-building activities and infrastructure investments, and provide inputs for the watsan sector’s ongoing reform process (which includes national policies, laws and local ordinances). These platforms are made up of representatives of local governments, municipal watsan utilities, community-run watsan utilities (Juntas Administradoras de Agua Potable y Saneamiento, JAAPS), NGOs and community based organizations (CBOs).
This sector has traditionally been, and still is, dominated by male engineers, which means that these platforms, if nothing is done to prevent it, will be essentially made up of strongly biased men that, in most cases, confuse the means (pumps and pipes) with ends (healthy population). I have nothing against male engineers, and there are some who are sensitized in regards to gender issues, but they rarely feel any responsibility in regards to challenging gender-based injustices, and more rarely know how to go about it. In this context, the people capacitated in this workshop will be balancing the platforms towards the social side of the watsan sector, with a special focus on women.
The three-day workshop started with a series of presentations and debates about general gender issues, such as the definition of men and women, the difference between Women in Development (WID) and Gender and Development (GAD), definitions of gender equality (a state of equal benefits, burdens and opportunities for men and women) and gender equity (fairness in the distribution of benefits, burdens and opportunities), gender-based power relations, among others. Through these debates we got to know how conscious and committed the participants were and we all learned how to deal with different points of view about sensitive gender issues. We also made visible the importance of self-esteem and empowerment when dealing with unequal gender relations. Despite that only four men participated, these debates revealed the importance of our presence in this kind of workshop, allowing women participants to train their ability to address sensitive gender issues in front of men. In this first day we also had a presentation of the Catamayo-Chira bi-national watershed management project, the first large-scale successful experience of mainstreaming gender in water projects in Ecuador.
On the second day participants were divided in four groups, one per province, to develop community maps and a gender analysis of one chosen community from each province. Each group had at least one woman from a rural community, who provided all the required information. The maps and analyses revealed important gender breaches in the water and sanitation services: one the one hand, women proved to have a prominent role in water-related activities in the household and also bore most burdens due to deficiencies, notably polluted water and lack of toilets in their homes; on the other hand, watsan utilities were all managed by men. These breaches were the starting point in the preparation of an action plan for each community, which also served as an exercise in results-based project planning and in thinking development through a cause-effect logic. This logic might seem obvious, but it is a skill that requires training and practice, something which almost all participants have never had. In spite of all difficulties, groups developed fairly good plans and showed a whole lot of enthusiasm and motivation, including men.
The third and last day was dedicated to working on individual plans, which were focused on each participant’s context (national or local institutions, NGOs, JAAPs, or communities). They had to choose one of the identified gender breaches as the problem to address from their specific positions with support from the watsan program.
These three days contributed to a deeper sensitization of all participants and they greatly enhanced their motivation and sense of empowerment. Thanks to this workshop, participants are now in a stronger position to influence the program’s provincial platforms in promoting gender equity in the sector. We expect them to set a precedent in mainstreaming gender in a sector that has been traditionally dominated by males and biased toward the masculine point of view.
In my next post I will be writing about the action plans developed by the participants.
Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca is a Spanish urban planner, trained in Barcelona’s School of Architecture and London’s Development Planning Unit. He has work experience in the private, public, academic and NGO sector in Barcelona, Hanoi, Ghana and several cities in India, and he is currently working for UN-HABITAT in Quito, Ecuador, in a governance of the water and sanitation sector programme.