How do financial insecurity and discrimination cause multigenerational vulnerability of sanitation workers?

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  • pson
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  • Technical Support Unit, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC)
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How do financial insecurity and discrimination intersect to cause multigenerational vulnerability of sanitation workers?

Dear all,

As you know, in the last few years, the issue of health, safety, and dignity of sanitation workers—including toilet and sewer cleaners as well as pit and septic tank emptiers—has become an important topic in the WASH sector, thanks in part to the landmark report by the World Bank, WHO, ILO, and WaterAid. The report identifies four challenges that sanitation workers face: 1)occupational / environmental hazards; 2) weak legal protection; 3) financial insecurity; 4) social stigma and discrimination.

I think that a particularly important point that the report raises is the connection between financial insecurity and discrimination, and how these persist over generations: 

 “Low-grade, unskilled sanitation workers often face social stigma and discrimination. This is especially true when sanitation is linked to a caste-based structure and often allocated to castes perceived to be lower in the caste hierarchy, such as in India and Bangladesh, where sanitation work is perceived to belong to the Dalit caste. This stigma compounds the social ostracizing and limitations on social mobility that workers face and often results in intergenerational discrimination, where children of sanitation workers often struggle to escape the vicious cycle of limited opportunities and sanitation work. More generally, however, low income, financial stress, informality and the social stigma attached to handling feces can form a multigenerational poverty trap for many low-grade sanitation workers. These factors manifest in implicit or explicit discrimination, which hinders workers’ social inclusion, their opportunities to shift careers, and social mobility.”

I find this passage to be important because it shows how these two challenges work hand in hand to create a feedback loop of socioeconomic vulnerability for sanitation workers. Unfortunately, I have not come across a lot of material on how these interlinked issues are being dealt with together, and therefore wanted to ask you for country-specific insights, or ideas on how to best go forward. 
  • In countries like India, what kind of work is being done by the government/civil society/development partners to fight caste-based discrimination and economic vulnerability, and is the well-being of sanitation workers included in this advocacy? If not, how might it be included?
  • In other countries, what kind of discrimination do sanitation workers face? What is the demographic of sanitation workers generally (age, socioeconomic status, education level), and is there a sense that families participate in sanitation work over generations? 
Gathering preliminary information around these questions could potentially help us design programmes that address the vulnerabilities of sanitation workers and their families. This could also provide a basis for an advocacy campaign with CSOs to call to attention the stigma and discrimination that sanitation workers face in their daily toils as they fend for their already impoverished
families.

Best regards,
Philip
Technical Support Unit, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC)
Website: www.wsscc.org / Twitter: @WatSanCollabCou / Facebook: WatSanCollabCouncil
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  • CharlotteM
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Re: How do financial insecurity and discrimination intersect to cause multigenerational vulnerability of sanitation workers?

Dear Philip,
Thank you for your post highlighting the challenges that are being faced by sanitation workers in various countries. If I am to give a feedback on what is happening in Kenya, I would first base it on a concept that was written by Doreen Mbalo in a project we worked on together (UBSUP). You can find the link to the document here . (Project implementation- Emptying and Transportation-Sanitation teams concept and tools).

As of when the document was written, it quotes,

” Those involved in pit emptying are ostracized and stigmatized within their communities. Many emptiers indicate that they only carry out this type of work because they cannot find another job. The services offered are poorly paid (approximately KSh 150($1.5) for every drum of sludge emptied).”

Given that the manual emptiers (one form of sanitation workers) operated in the urban low income areas in Kenya, they are necessary as they serve the people who may not be able to afford exhauster trucks. To integrate them, through the project, a procedure was set up which linked them with the water utilities (who were partners in the project) that have the mandate to provide water and sewerage services.

The procedure entailed:-Identifying, training and registration of manual emptiers (This was core as it linked the manual emptiers with the various government entities that were involved with emptying). It is detailed in the document.-Provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and immunization. This went into legitimizing the business and trying to remove the stigma that was involved as well as maintaining their safety. The photos in the document show this. - Business and finance model training which showed them how they can make more business for themselves and how best they can market the project.

At this point, the project was emphasizing on emptying of the UDDT. However, this has been reviewed and currently, the registration is also being encouraged for exhauster trucks and any other form of emptying that is safe, cheap, practical and efficient. (I left the project but I can link you up if need be).

This could be a starting point to query more on how the sanitation workers can be integrated. 
Regards
Charlotte 


Charlotte Mong'ina Maua
Water and Sanitation Consultant

M +254 (0) 723 571 463
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L: Nairobi, Kenya
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  • pson
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Re: How do financial insecurity and discrimination cause multigenerational vulnerability of sanitation workers?

Dear Charlotte,

Thank you for sharing this informative document on the Kenyan context. It is sad to see that manual emptiers are stigmatized in Kenya as well; at the same time, it is encouraging that there is an effort to formalize the sector, which the WB/WHO/ILO/WaterAid report identifies as one of the areas for action to address the situation of sanitation workers.

I wanted to share with everyone today some insights that WSSCC has received from our National Coordinator ‘s (NC) office in Bangladesh. Recently, the NC office conducted interviews with in the Bonarpara Sweeper Colony in the village of Saghata  Upazila, where many sanitation worker families live. These conversations highlighted how multigenerational discrimination and economic vulnerability, mentioned in the report above, play out in practice in the Bangladeshi context. Here are some of the key issues that came up in the interviews:
  • Barriers to land/property acquisition: sanitation workers often live together in what are called “sweeper colonies.” In Bangladesh, the term “sweeper” can denote all types of sanitation work, from cleaning bathrooms in train stations and village markets to emptying septic tanks. Unfortunately, sanitation workers face major barriers to land/property acquisition for several reasons. First, sweeper colonies, like the one where our NC conducted interviews, are on government-owned lands (khas) that cannot be bought. Buying lands outside of the colonies can be difficult due to financial insecurity and discrimination; as this informative study indicates, the wider community is unwilling to rent or sell even to sanitation workers who have the means to do so. Minoty Rani, an interviewee who works at the train station as a sweeper, said that it was her “dream to own property and lands in Bangladesh one day.”
  • Inability to change profession: As the above study found, sweepers are often locked into their profession due to the lack of education and social discrimination. One of our interviewees, Lalu Vashor, is a septic tank emptier who once thought about changing his profession. However, he thinks that this would be difficult due to discrimination of the wider society. “If I opened up a small business, no one would buy from me,” he said. Indeed, people often avoid interaction with sanitation workers; Lalu expressed that van services refuse to carry methors (sweepers) for the fear that other customers might be driven away.  
  • Barriers to education & discrimination at school: the inheritance of sanitation work arises partly from the fact that there are barriers to education. While some organizations—such as BRAC—provide education to sweeper families, government education can be difficult to access due to the lack of schools in colonies as well as discrimination. Sweeper parents are often actively discouraged by teachers from sending their kids, and children also face social isolation at school.  For example, one of Lalu’s children, who attends primary school, is called “son of methor” by students from other parts of the village.    
        

It would be interesting to hear more about the inner workings of multigenerational discrimination/economic vulnerability in other contexts. As well, if anyone is familiar with the Bangladeshi context, it would be great to find out about the work being done to improve caste-based discrimination and the well-being of sanitation workers.

Best regards,
Philip
Technical Support Unit, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC)
Website: www.wsscc.org / Twitter: @WatSanCollabCou / Facebook: WatSanCollabCouncil
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  • LucyStevens
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Re: How do financial insecurity and discrimination cause multigenerational vulnerability of sanitation workers?

Dear Charlotte and Philip

Thanks for highlighting these important issues in the lives of vulnerable sanitation workers.

At Practical Action we did a study in Bangladesh last year, interviewing nearly 400 waste and sanitation workers in both City Corporations and municipalities, and hearing first hand from workers through focus group discussions. We wanted to find out about working conditions and the spill-over effects on the lives of waste workers. 

Workers suffered harassment while working, and discrimination in their personal lives. They are excluded from sharing freely in food and drinks at social gatherings, and it can be hard to find marriage partners for their children. Workers talk about not being allowed inside restaurants, being automatically blamed for petty crimes such as theft, and having to struggle to be included on voting lists. If they try to start their own businesses, customers will not come.  One worker said "my son is a graduate, but he is not getting any job". 

Do get in touch if you'd like to know more.
The brief we produced is here:  https://practicalaction.org/knowledge-centre/resources/creating-the-working-conditions-for-health-dignity-and-opportunity/

Thanks!
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  • Chaiwe
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Re: How do financial insecurity and discrimination cause multigenerational vulnerability of sanitation workers?

Dear All,

Following this discussion, I can't help but think that we do need to draw a fine line between two categories of sanitation workers:

I. informal sanitation workers who work illegally and conduct their duties 'by night', sometimes using unconventional methods of emptying or disposal, as is common particularly here in Zambia as well as other African countries and other countries globally, and;
ii. formalised sanitation workers who work under the mandate of the service provider. These often show up to work in broad daylight, wearing PPE (in most cases branded with bold company letters and colors) and they use mechanised or semi-mechanised emptying technologies.

I shall quote Phillip's post when he mentioned that:

it is encouraging that there is an effort to formalize the sector, which the WB/WHO/ILO/WaterAid report identifies as one of the areas for action to address the situation of sanitation workers.

Therefore, in categorising these two different groups. I would say that differences in vulnerabilities do exist. With formalised sanitation workers experiencing less discrimination, less financial insecurities and in some cases even being considered 'heros' in their communities. Formalisation and recognition of this former group is one step towards reducing their vulnerability.  

Might I add, that some efforts can be noted in some countries in terms of sanitation work being officially acknowledged and formalized, for example South Africa as an example, where public and private employees follow national labor standards and have proper equipment and training.  Zambia has also made great strides recently under the Lusaka Sanitation Programme (LSP), by introducing and institutionalizing a curriculum into the TEVET system for the training of sanitation workers in addition to introducing licensing for this kind of work.

Take a look at this interesting publication coming out of Zambia:'Heroes behind Sanitation'  www.borda.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03...ehind-Sanitation.pdf




Regards,
Chaiwe
Co-moderator SuSanA forum
(Under consultancy contract with Skat Foundation funded by WSSCC)

Chaiwe Mushauko-Sanderse BSc. NRM, MPH
Independent consultant located in Lusaka, Zambia
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @ChaiweSanderse

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  • Chaiwe
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Re: How do financial insecurity and discrimination cause multigenerational vulnerability of sanitation workers?

Hello All, 

I thought I should add to my previous post by sharing with you the Wikipedia page on Sanitation Workers here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanitation_worker  . I have added the term Informal Sanitation Worker so that it is well captured within the article. See here is an extract of the definition of Informal Sanitation Worker from the Wikipedia page:

In some countries,  human excrement  is still collected from certain types of toilet (such as  bucket toilets  and  pit latrines ) without mechanical equipment and without  personal protective equipment . These workers are "scooping out feces from ‘dry’ latrines and overflowing pits". They are usually working in the  informal labour  sector and are commonly referred to as  informal sanitation workers  or 'illegal emptiers'. They are subjected to  social stigma  for their work in manually emptying  septic tanks  and pit latrines.


The Wikipedia page is still open for more country examples on the topic and other relevant inputs.

Regards,
Chaiwe
Co-moderator SuSanA forum
(Under consultancy contract with Skat Foundation funded by WSSCC)

Chaiwe Mushauko-Sanderse BSc. NRM, MPH
Independent consultant located in Lusaka, Zambia
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @ChaiweSanderse

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