Indonesia: Making Water Supply and Sanitation Women’s Business in Aceh and Nias - 2010

October 2010

In Aceh and North Sumatra women are the main collectors, users and managers of water. Convenience, safety and security, privacy, and dignity are high on women’s agenda for sanitation services.

In 2004 and 2005, two major disasters hit Indonesia within a six-month period. The 26 December 2004 earthquake and tsunami killed 130,000 and left another 37,000 persons injured in Aceh province. The 28 May 2005 earthquake that hit the remote island of Nias in North Sumatra province killed 850 people and caused severe damage. Among the damage to infrastructure, local water services were severely hit.  Grant assistance was provided to rebuild community water systems in 400 villages in the heavily affected areas in Aceh Province and on Nias Island. The Grant was linked to the Community Water Services and Health Loan Project (CWSHP).

Using a community empowerment approach, the  project was designed to strengthen the communities’ capacity to plan, implement, operate, and maintain water and sanitation facilities. By March 2010, civil works and facilities in 382 villages out of 400  villages were providing nearly 65,000 households with safe water. For women in the project areas, the greatest benefit was reducing the time spent fetching and storing water. This freed them for  other activities while improving the quality of the water they use. 

That men and women have different needs and  preferences in technology choice, uses, and location of water and sanitation facilities is now commonly accepted. As elsewhere, in Aceh and North Sumatra women are the main collectors, users and managers of water. Convenience, safety and security, privacy, and dignity are high on women’s agenda for sanitation services.  Women are also primarily responsible for the health and hygiene of household members. Yet, in the public sphere of decision making about water supply and sanitation, women have limited voice. Why? Because in this cultural context, traditionally the public sphere is “men’s business” while the private sphere of home and family is “women’s business.”  

Reconciling the two in traditional and largely sex-segregated communities such as Aceh and Nias can be challenging and time consuming, requiring a carefully crafted and culturally-sensitive approach. But, it must be done to ensure success and long-term project sustainability. Hence, an approach was needed to facilitate and ensure women’s involvement in the planning, design, implementation, and operation of water and sanitation facilities.

As a start, a project gender action plan was formulated to facilitate women's participation in the public sphere and to ensure men and women benefited equally from sustainable access to safe water and improved hygiene and sanitation. 

Community facilitators were hired and trained in facilitation and sensitized to gender and poverty concerns. The facilitators were all recruited from the areas in which they would operate for easier communication in local languages. A minimum target of 30% female community facilitators was included in the gender action plan.  

Community Implementation Teams (CITs) were established with a minimum of 30% female membership.

Community Implementation Teams (CITs) were  established with a minimum of 30% female membership. The community facilitators and consultants helped the CITs to make informed choices about the water supply system based on the desired quality and quantity of water, operation and maintenance requirements, and costs. The communities produced detailed community action plans for detailed planning, construction, operation and  maintenance, and establishment of user fees. The community action plans including planned works, costs, and schedule were publicly posted for transparency and accountability.

Adopting a gender-inclusive community based approach entailed greater risks but promised greater returns.  The conservative nature of some of the communities towards the participation of women posed risks. But, the greater returns were in giving women “voice” in decisions about water and sanitation which is critical to their everyday and work and life—“women’s business.” 

Women taking Action—Mazingo Tanose’, Nias, North Sumatra 

When we started our activities in Mazingo Tanose’o in late 2006, women were initially not really enthusiastic about our project, expecting that their opinions would not be considered in planning and implementation. Most of them felt it was strange that they had  to be involved, because usually projects were “men’s business.” We decided to hold discussions with small groups of women in different places. Then, they became interested. 

When the Community Implementation Team was to be established, it was pointed out that at least 30% of the members were expected to be women. It was agreed that women would concentrate on the Health Promotion Unit. During discussions about the water supply facilities to be built, differences in perception began to emerge—men appeared to be more concerned about utilization of available funds and smooth implementation, while women were concerned about reducing time to collect water and the potential health benefits. 

Aside from water supply options, women suggested special training for women related to health improvements. It was agreed  to include this activity in the Community Action Plan. We invited a senior midwife from the district Health Service  for this activity. The women were happy to have their questions answered about basic health issues. They became more aware  that they have an important role to play. Worried about frequent occurrence of diarrhea, they suggested establishing a ‘diarrhea response unit’. This proposal was accommodated in the Community Action Plan through training of a cadre to assist families in taking appropriate measures if diarrhea occurs."

Water User Committees were established for collecting fees on an as-needed basis for maintenance and repairs. All female members were trained in operation and simple maintenance. Water  Management Organizations for more complex systems such as piped water systems requiring water pumping were formally established with clear responsibilities and rights, a work plan, and an operation and maintenance (O&M) protocol to support the waterworks.  

Establishing water user committees and Water Management Organizations was important for ensuring sustainability. Under the gender action plan, a 30% target was included for women’s membership in these committees.  

The quantitative Gender Action Plan was met:

  • Community Facilitator Team at least 30% female  (achieved)
  • Participants in participatory forums at village level are 30% female for: (i) meeting to socialize the project  (achieved), (ii) meeting to identify problems in the village regarding access to safe water and sanitation  (achieved), (iii) meeting to establish Community 
  • Implementation Team, (exceeded, 47%)
  • Community Implementation Team at least 30% female (Achieved)
  • Water user committee/water management organization 30% female (achieved) 
  • All female members of user groups participated in O&M training (achieved)

Although it was not measured in quantitative  terms, the project has clearly enabled women to participate in the water system  selection and operation driven by their need for better access to clean water for drinking, cooking, and washing. Without the targets, quotas and design features to promote women’s participation, they almost certainly would have been excluded from the process.