Critical Evaluation of Gender Equity Policy in Nepal

Executive Summary

Access to water supply and sanitation services has a significant influence on the social development of people and poverty reduction. The Nepali government realizes that the present situation in this sector cannot be addressed separately due to a number of technical reasons, but needs an approach that considers the means in which gender participation and involvement of all communities can influence access to resources in decision forming. In Nepal, women are the prime users of domestic water for family needs. However, social relations, traditions, castes, culture, and customs restrict the access and rights to water resources. The gender equity and other social aspects, such as ethnicity, caste, and economic status, influence women’s approach to control and procurement of water despite the formation of water users and sanitation communities, NGOs, and district agencies.

This sector has recognized the importance of gender equity in the delivery and distribution of water, and the government has formulated programs, policies, and strategies with the support of Asian Development Bank to address these issues. 

The current paper addresses some critical issues such as 1) how successful is the government in the implementation of  policies that have helped all communities irrespective of their caste and creed in availing equal access to water supply and sanitation schemes,  2) how strongly the support of Asian Development Bank and efforts of government agencies have improved access to water supply and sanitation facilities, and 3) measures of success achieved by water users and sanitation communities, NGOs, and other agencies involved in improving access to water and sanitation services and its influence on gender equity. Finally, the paper states that the Water Supply and Sanitation sector cannot achieve success without involving rural women, Dalits, poor households, and inhabitants of remote areas who cannot satisfy their own demands and needs and do not have access to their rights in the social system. The government should open more district centers and involve all communities in water users’ committees, enabling rural groups to avail equal services. Health and Sanitation programs must include trainings especially for women from low castes and backward communities, which will bring them into the mainstream of the nation’s development programs on the improvement of water supply and sanitation services.

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Introduction

The millennium development goals (MDGs) list the priorities of Nepali government concerning equal access to water supply and sanitation schemes and focus on the ways of improving water supply and sanitation facilities. Realizing the necessity to improve the availability of drinking water, sanitation, and community healthcare in the remote hilly and backward areas of Nepal, the ADB offered help for the rehabilitation and construction of rural water supply and sanitation services along with improvement of healthcare facilities. The project aims to boost the quality of human life through sustainable access to drinking water and sanitation services in the western, southern, and other remote areas of Nepal where communication channels are extremely limited. The ADB project also invites all communities to participate in water users’ committees and receive equal benefits.

The direct results of the ADB project were: 1. Enhancing the capability and capacity of participating groups in planning, implementing, operating, managing, and improvement of WSS facilities; 2. Increasing involvement of all ethnic minorities, castes, women, and disadvantaged groups, 3; Educating about aspects of hygiene through campaigns; 4. Increasing the capacity of support from organizations such as NGOs/CBOs aiming to improve RWSS services, and gender equality and integrating women in water and sanitation projects (Cornwall & Eade 2010).

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The current paper evaluates the success achieved in the sector of water supply and sanitation and examines how strongly the support of ADB and efforts of government agencies have improved access to water supply and sanitation facilities and measure its influence on gender equity. The paper also reviews the legal frameworks adopted to address the issues of social inclusion and gender equality in community development programs, which could enable underprivileged to receive equal access to water resources and sanitation services.

Project Brief, Policy and Country Programs

Gender Equity in Water Supply and Sanitation Sector

Gender equity means involving all communities irrespective of their ethnicity, caste, and creed into mainstreams of nation’s development programs and to avail equal benefits and services offered by the government. The ADB offered financial aid for the rehabilitation and construction of water supply and sanitation services along with improvement of healthcare facilities. The project aims to build a healthy human life through equal access to drinking water and sanitation services to all communities in Nepal where access to water resources is extremely limited (Bennett 2005).

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Access to water supply and sanitation facilities has a significant effect on the social development of people and poverty reduction. The present situation reflects that critical issues in this sector cannot be addressed separately due to several technical reasons but need an approach to consider the means in which gender participation and involvement influences access to resources in decision forming. In Nepal, women have the prime responsibility to procure domestic water for family needs. They spend several hours a day standing in long queues to collect water. Young girls also have the responsibility to fetch water that affects their education and schooling. However, the access and rights to water resources has been restricted by social relations, tradition, caste, culture and customs (Klenk 2004).

Besides gender relations, some other social aspects such as ethnicity, caste, and economic status influence women’s approach to control and procurement of water. The concept of purity and caste system in the Hindu religion determine the access and rights of women to water resources. This sector has realized the significance of gender equity in accessing WSS services and designed programs and policies to address these issues (Cornwall, Harrison & Whitehead 2007).

Policy Framework

Three major policies frame this sector:

  • The Water Resources Act (1992): This act is combined with the Water Resources Regulation of 1993 and acts as an umbrella in governing water resource management. It helps in forming water resources committees at a district level, associations of water users, and grants licenses. However, this act does not address the social inclusion and gender issues, because it assumes that all citizens have equal access and benefits from water and sanitation facilities.
  • The Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (RWSS) Strategy and Policy (2004): This policy encourages community involvement in various projects of WSSs with focus on poor, and gender dimensions. It assigns priority to ethnic groups and backward communities in accessing drinking water and sanitation services, although it does not mention these communities specifically. It allocates 33 percent to representation of females on the water user committees and proportionate involvement of disadvantaged ethnic groups and different castes. However, several organizations go against the national policy and allocate 50 percent to women membership of the user committees. Availability of services and involvement of disadvantaged groups indicate the progress and help in evaluation and monitoring. This policy also encourages a pro-poor approach by specifying a 10 percent non-cash contribution to the community instead of 20 percent by the poorer households which are headed by women with no adult members or members with disability. The policy does not include a subsidy to sanitation, although some sector agencies are applying with the help of various subsidy models, but with the exception of total sanitation approach led by communities (Johnson et al. 2008).
  • The Urban Water Supply and Sanitation (UWSS Act 2009): The 2009 amendment of this act is a significant step as social inclusion is integrated in the core of this policy because of one of its five core principles. The policy ensures that the disadvantaged and poor groups have equal access to services and these groups, especially females, are included in decision making which impacts their interests and needs. Social inclusions policies involve flexible payment options, cross-subsidies, and water user committees represented by women and underprivileged groups (Lama 2011).

The Local Self-Governance Act 2004 (LSG) empowers the district development committee to monitor and plan rural water supply and sanitation services. The regulations and provisions in this act have increased citizens’ involvement in the local administration of WSS activities. The act also includes the Three-Year Interim plan calling for equal representation of females in the users’ committees and mentions that priority will be granted to ensure proportionate inclusion of economically and socially unprivileged groups with regard to use of water and sanitation services. (Shah 2009).

Evaluation of Development Policies and Outcomes

The concept of involving women in the mainstream and social inclusion approach is still not understood, and capacity building and sensitization of these issues are required. Greater attention on human resource development of females through training programs could fill this gap. The government policy on the reservation in civil service could also increase opportunities for females in the water and sanitation sector. The stakeholder group in this sector ensures interventions and coordination and examines the progress and exchange of information (Shaw 2007).

 However, there is no effective leadership from the government and committees, and each committee is engaged in carrying out its projects with limited coordination. At the same time, this sector has observed significant changes that have increased the involvement of communities, especially females, in the planning, implementation, and management of programs. Gender equity and social inclusion policies have been implemented by sharing information and best practices, but there is insufficient sharing on how to enhance GESI practices (Bennett et al. 2008).

Agencies in this sector have adopted several policies and programs to encourage the inclusion of the poor, disadvantaged communities, and women from low castes. This sector includes placement of females on decision-making posts and user committees and balanced reservations for other disadvantaged groups. The underprivileged communities can avail subsidies for construction of latrines and payment for transportation of non-local construction material, technical training facilities for women, and paid work facilities for poor women (Cornwall, Harrison & Whitehead 2007).

Some projects offer savings and livelihood activities aimed at women and poorer families. While the availability of water supply and sanitation services has improved because of excessive agencies operating in the sector, there is a possibility that vulnerable communities may face resistance in raising their demands and being left out of incentives, schemes, and benefits. It is usually the educated men, women, and elites that contact the project staff or local government offices for support and assistance, and project staff and local government officials also feel comfortable dealing with these people. The political influence of some people is another factor in determining project allocation (Cornwall, Harrison & Whitehead 2007).

The sector cannot achieve success without involvements of groups such as rural women, Dalits, the poor households, and inhabitants of hilly areas who are unable to express their demands and needs and do not have access to their rights in the social system. Factors that continue to restrict their ability to be involved equally are illiteracy, low-income status, low self-confidence, low economic status, and the perceived benefits and costs of participation.  Gender training programs that are imparted to communities are not enough to transform and challenge the gender roles of women and men. Similarly, social identity on the basis of ethnicity, caste, and economic status restricts these groups from exercising their rights and developing initiatives. Dalit women on the user committees often cannot exercise their voice and are discouraged from attending meetings due to caste discrimination and prevailing social norms (Suvedi et al. 2012)

Poverty restricts the opportunities for women and the poor to engage in project activities. Cost-sharing modes and user group fees can also restrict the ability of the poor women to pay the maintenance and operation costs and join credit and saving groups. Moreover, women living in remote hilly areas do not have enough communication facilities to be informed on participation on user committees that require a physical presence in meetings. The community members have to travel long distances to report to the district offices and meet with project staff, which prevents females from participating in WUCs (Dawson 2006).

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Conclusion

Exclusion has been the prime cause and outcome of unequal distribution and development of water supply and sanitation sector in Nepal. The ADB project accomplished the targets mentioned in the planning documents for equal representation of females and disadvantaged groups in WUCs. The project also achieved success related to caste, gender, and ethnicity objectives, such as reduction in time needed to fetch water, generating employment opportunities for females and disadvantaged groups and improving sanitation conditions by promoting the construction of latrines.

The project did not prove beneficial for the women belonging to Dalits and backward communities. Although these groups have access to drinking water, they still encounter discrimination, especially while living with mixed groups, because they are considered untouchable and impure. Caste system prevailing in Hindu communities prevents women from engaging in project activities and constrains the achievement of government objectives.

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Recommendations

The project was successful in achieving majority of targets mentioned in the GCE strategy, but a number of issues remain unsolved;

  • An affirmative approach, such as reservations for women and underprivileged groups and ethnic minorities in the UWCs, is a productive strategy when it is implemented. The project showed that positive approach can render significant changes in the communities as it offers opportunities for the underprivileged to build confidence and capacity in demonstrating leadership.
  • Women’s involvement in WSP can increase community ownership because females are responsible for procuring water and receive direct benefits from these projects. Their involvement could lead to the empowerment of women.
  • The involvement of women in key positions can be obtained through compulsory representation quotas supported by tailor-made capacity building activities. The training programs will motivate and increase their knowledge.
  • Women from low castes and Dalit groups require additional guidance that would support them in the decision-forming process. Lack of education is a prime obstacle for rural women, which poses a hindrance to their meaningful involvement in decision forming.
  • Although the WSSP achieved the 50 percent target for backward women in VMW and masonry training, due to the socio-cultural limitations not all female trainees, especially from the rural belts, used the skills learnt. Young rural women should be given an opportunity to learn masonry work and VMWs that will improve their economic conditions.
  • Disadvantaged groups have little means to participate in trainings and meetings. Thus, there is a need to develop income generating activities for them. Lack of involvement limits their opportunity to project benefits.

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