Michelle Hynes and Michelle Dynes are epidemiologists in CDC’s Emergency Response and Recovery Branch. They took a moment out of their hectic schedules to talk about their work related to World Toilet Day. Dr. Hynes and Dr. Dynes have been involved in public health activities linking the safety of women and girls to the locations and privacy of latrines in humanitarian settings.
During CDC’s response following the Haiti earthquake, my team worked with the International Rescue Committee and the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster assistance to address the needs of women and girls in internally displaced persons’ camps in Port au Prince. Our team evaluated the use of handheld solar lights by women and girls. We wanted to better understand women and girls’ sense of safety in the camps and to know if the solar lights were acceptable, useful, and durable.
We found that one of the primary reasons women and girls left their shelters at night was to use latrines. In focus group discussions, women identified the latrines and the paths leading to the latrines as areas where they felt the least safe. Women and girls spokes about men hanging around the latrines and nearby paths. They described lack of proper lighting in the area. They also described latrines without privacy or doors to close the latrines, with men positioning themselves so they could see inside the facilities.
After the baseline surveys, the team distributed handheld solar lights to each household and followed up every other month to explore their impact. It turned out that the lights were extremely beloved, even precious. Women reported using them at least once a day, if not more often. They used them for going to latrine, to navigate dark pathways, and kids used them for homework at night.
The intervention was successful. We know these lights had high durability and were used often. Women and girls maintained the ability to use the lights when they needed them. We think, because the lights were introduced into the household in the context of safety for women and girls, that men and boys in the family respected their rights to use the devices.
The handheld solar light project is important for women and girls. Having access to lighting is critical. Think about how many times a day you turn a light on. Here in the U.S., you expect to be able to see in the parking lot or to turn on a light when you walk into the house after dark. Giving women and girls in displacement camps access to lighting also gives them control. This is a huge change for women and girls who feel like they have little control in their lives. As an intervention, it is easy to do.
The project that my colleague, Michelle Dynes, described is a great example of the ways in which violence against women and girls can be prevented or reduced in humanitarian settings. The location and lighting of public latrines is only one of the safety issues in displacement camps. As part of an inter-agency task team led by UNICEF and UNFPA, I have been working on the revision of guidelines for the integration of gender based violence (GBV) interventions in humanitarian settings. Many different sectors work in humanitarian settings, such as the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Sector. These sectors aren’t necessarily aware of actions they can take to increase the safety of women and girls or other at-risk groups, or feel confident in their ability to do so. Woman and girls who must walk into isolated areas to bathe, go to the bathroom, or get water are vulnerable to rape and other violent acts. The guidelines provide suggested actions the sector can take to reduce these risks. For example, those who are at risk can be included in the planning process for the location of the latrines and aspects of the construction such as lighting and privacy. Similar guidance will be given for all sectors working in humanitarian settings. By providing specific ways in which each sector can include GBV prevention and response activities into their normal tasks, the humanitarian field as a whole will have increased capacity to respond to and prevent this type of violence. We expect the revision of the GBV Guidelines to be completed by the end of 2014 with the official launch in 2015.