Women and marginalized populations often encounter adversity associated with access, planning, and management of water and sanitation (WatSan) resources in rural India. The Government of India (GOI) has shifted to decentralized, participatory WatSan systems and developed policies to include women and marginalized populations from rural areas in WatSan. Many NGOs working on WatSan in rural India also strive to include women and marginalized populations. Both the GOI and NGOs claim decentralized, participatory programs lead to empowerment of women and gender equality. Through separate case studies, this paper reviews WatSan programs started by two NGOs in different villages in India. The two NGOs (NGO A and NGO B) aspire to empower women and achieve gender equality in conjunction with WatSan programs. Mixed methods are used to evaluate empowerment and gender equality in villages related and unrelated to WatSan programs. The concept of empowerment is divided into two components: empowerment potential and the empowerment process. Empowerment potential for WatSan is gauged using an Empowerment Potential Index (EPI) that determines access to WatSan, access to WatSan planning groups, and access to WatSan management groups for individuals using data from household surveys. Women respondents in NGO A have higher ratings on the EPI. Women respondents in NGO B have comparatively lower ratings on the EPI. This is likely correlated to the time each NGO has been working in the WatSan sector. The empowerment process for WatSan is gauged using a definition of self-worth, capacity, and transformation to analyze data from individual interviews. Women participants in NGO A engaged in the empowerment process largely through obtaining microcredit to make household and community financial decisions unrelated to WatSan. Women participants in NGO B engaged in the empowerment process mainly through individual communication about water issues with the vice-president of their village government. Neither NGO has a clear definition of empowerment nor a monitoring program in place to measure empowerment, but each NGO collects sex-disaggregated data to measure gender equality. Both NGOs have fewer comments by women related to self-worth when compared to comments related to capacity and transformation. Both NGOs have lower occurrences of the empowerment process occurring on the political level according to women in individual interviews. Gender equality for WatSan was improved by each organization. NGO A implemented WatSan efforts that influenced gender equality and empowerment through creation of community groups that provided loans for WatSan and WatSan awareness. NGO B implemented WatSan efforts that influenced gender equality and empowerment through access to WatSan and increased WatSan awareness.
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