“Additional effort is needed to monitor gender inequalities in WASH systematically”
Unsafe WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) services perpetuate cycles of poverty. Designing and implementing WASH programmes that address the specific needs of women, girls and other vulnerable groups is key to reaching universal access to water and sanitation, but also to achieving gender equality and empowerment.
Globally, women and girls bear the brunt of the water and sanitation crisis. That is a major finding of the report Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) 2000-2022: Special focus on gender, released by UNICEF and WHO last July. Smart Water Magazine had the opportunity to interview Tom Slaymaker, UNICEF Senior Adviser, Statistics and Monitoring (WASH), about the highlights of the first in-depth analysis of gender inequalities in WASH.
Please tell us briefly about your career path and your current role at UNICEF.
I work in the Data and Analytics Section at UNICEF Headquarters and manage the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, which is responsible for global monitoring of progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). I’ve been working on water and sanitation issues for 25 years, and before joining UNICEF, I worked for a global think tank (Overseas Development Institute) and an international NGO (WaterAid).
What would you highlight from the report Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) 2000-2022: Special focus on gender?
The report provides an update on progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal targets for universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030. Globally, in 2022, 73 per cent of households had access to safely managed drinking water, 57 per cent had safely managed sanitation, and 75 per cent had proper hygiene.
WASH services rural coverage has increased rapidly, but urban coverage has increased more slowly or stagnated due to urban population growth
But this still means that many children and families are left behind. Globally, 2.2 billion people – 648 million children – still lack safely managed drinking water at home, and 3.4 billion people – 1.04 billion children – do not have safely managed sanitation. And 2 billion people – 594 million children – cannot wash their hands with soap and water at home.
The report also highlights the fact that women and girls bear the brunt of the water and sanitation crisis. The data show that women and adolescent girls are responsible for fetching water in 7 out of 10 households without supplies on-premises and spend more time on the task each day than their male counterparts. Women and girls are more likely to feel unsafe using a toilet outside the home and are disproportionately affected by the lack of handwashing facilities.
Billions of people have gained access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services since 2000. In the context of long-term trends (looking back at the 20th century), has the rate of progress increased or decreased? Can progress ever catch up with the global population increase?
Between 2000 and 2022, the global population increased from 6.1 billion to 8 billion. The report shows that billions of people have gained access to WASH services during this period, and the number of people still lacking services has steadily decreased.
Achieving universal access by 2030 will require a sixfold increase in current rates of progress for safely managed drinking water
Since 2000, 2.1 billion have gained access to safely managed drinking water, 2.5 billion have gained safely managed sanitation, and 1 billion people have gained basic hygiene services since 2015.
However coverage and rates of change vary widely between regions and countries. The data show that while rural coverage has increased rapidly, urban coverage has increased more slowly or stagnated due to urban population growth.
Furthermore, we are not progressing fast enough to meet the SDG global targets. Achieving universal access by 2030 will require a sixfold increase in current rates of progress for safely managed drinking water, a fivefold increase for safely managed sanitation and a threefold increase for basic hygiene services.
The report recognises the links between SDG 5 on gender equality and SDG 6 on water and sanitation. Should there be more of a focus on these links as part of actions to move forward the 2030 Agenda?
The importance of progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in realising gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is widely recognised, but there is a lack of commonly agreed indicators to monitor progress on gender-related aspects of water, sanitation, and hygiene at national and global levels. This report focuses on gender and aims to draw attention to the issue.
For example, the report highlights countries facing the biggest challenges in improving the accessibility of drinking water on-premises and within 30 minutes. It uses harmonised data from 50 low- and middle-income countries to analyse who is responsible for fetching drinking water among households that still collect water from supplies located off-premises and the amount of time spent per day by women and girls and men and boys in different countries.
We lack agreed indicators to monitor progress on gender-related aspects of water, sanitation, and hygiene at national and global levels
It also identifies countries that still have high rates of open defecation and use of shared sanitation facilities, which present specific challenges for women and girls. It shows that while shared sanitation is decreasing in many countries, in such situations, women are more likely to feel unsafe when walking alone at night and may face a higher risk of sexual harassment and other dangers while using the toilet.
The purpose of the JMP/GLAAS gender review is to identify opportunities for enhanced monitoring of gender in relation to SDG WASH targets
The report identifies countries where many households still have no handwashing facility, disproportionately impacting women and girls who remain primarily responsible for domestic chores. It also includes an in-depth analysis of inequalities in menstrual health among women and adolescent girls in 53 low- and middle-income countries.
The report provides a first in-depth analysis of the inequalities and vulnerabilities women and girls face in accessing safe WASH, but additional effort is needed to monitor gender inequalities in WASH systematically and to tailor interventions and policies to empower women and girls by addressing their specific needs and challenges.
What was involved in the JMP/GLASS gender review in relation to SDG WASH targets, and what was the purpose of this review?
The purpose of the JMP/GLAAS gender review is to identify opportunities for enhanced monitoring of gender in relation to SDG WASH targets. We worked with Emory University to create an inventory of existing indicators and tools and held a series of expert meetings to assess their suitability for monitoring different dimensions of gender equality. We are currently holding consultations on a short list of priority indicators that can be progressively integrated into national monitoring systems and included in future global reports.
Global coverage of basic hygiene services has increased since 2022, but coverage has actually decreased in urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa. How can this setback be explained?
Between 2015 and 2022, 25 million people gained access to basic hygiene services in urban areas of sub-Saharan Africa. But over the same period, the urban population has increased by 120 million, which means that services are not keeping pace with population growth, and so urban coverage of basic hygiene services has decreased from 36% to 32%.
What are the barriers to prioritising WASH investment in development aid funding? Should there be more of a spotlight on poor progress to force increased progress and investment?
The UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Drinking Water and Sanitation (GLAAS) analyses trends in WASH sector financing. The 2022 report shows that both the total amount and the share of official development assistance going to WASH are decreasing and that most of the future investment required will need to come from national governments. But among the 120 countries reporting to GLAAS in 2022, three quarters had insufficient funds to implement their WASH plans and strategies, and less than one-third had sufficient human resources required to carry out key drinking water, sanitation and hygiene functions.
How is climate change expected to impact progress on access to WASH services in the coming years?
Climate change is making it even more challenging to extend WASH services to unserved populations and to keep existing WASH services running, and the effects are already being felt in many countries around the world.
Urban coverage of basic hygiene services is not keeping pace with population growth and has decreased from 36% to 32% in sub-Saharan Africa
Altered precipitation patterns can lead to water scarcity, causing difficulty obtaining clean water for drinking and hygiene, while flooding can damage infrastructure and contaminate water sources. Poor water quality and sanitation challenges can result from increased concentrations of pollutants due to higher temperatures and runoff during heavy rainfall. Consequently, this can heighten the risk of waterborne diseases and health issues, particularly in marginalised communities. Displacement and migration due to climate-related events can also disrupt access to WASH services, leading to further challenges in ensuring hygiene and health.
UNICEF is working closely with governments worldwide to strengthen the resilience of water and sanitation services to climate-related shocks and stresses.