Lived Realities of Women Sanitation Workers in India

June 2019

In India, sanitation work is predominantly undertaken by persons from castes whose customary roles relegate them to stigmatized occupations. The most common Dalit caste performing sanitation work is Valmiki caste. An even wider gap of injustice appears on disaggregating the Valmiki community by gender.

This paper synthesises the findings from three participatory research studies in 2018 in three cities of northern India (Ajmer, Jhansi and Muzaffarpur). The primary research question was: What does it mean to be a woman sanitation worker? The study explores the daily lives and lived experiences of women sanitation workers and the overlapping identities (related to caste, gender, education, occupation and geography), dignity, and map the socio-politics of their existence. The report includes stories of workers to help identify recommendations to improve their wellbeing.

Who might find this resource useful and why?

Who: WASH programme teams, researchers, public policy makers, local/national government, development partners, labour organisations, unions, right holder organisations.

Why: Female sanitation workers are one of the most vulnerable groups in society. The research found a strong correlation between caste, lack of education, and lack of professional agency for women sanitation workers across the three cities. Often hired as contractual and outsourced workers, women suffer further vulnerability due to lower compensation with no benefits whatsoever. Employers lacked any accountability towards their physical and mental health. Awareness among the women sanitation workers about laws, policies or schemes that are meant to protect them and their rights is very low.

The study makes recommendations to improve the health, safety and dignity of sanitation workers and to ensure their voice in planning and monitoring of city-level sanitation services.

Additional details

PublisherParticipatory Research in Asia
RegionSouth Asia
ThemesBehaviour change, Challenging contexts, Gender, Leave no one behind, Sanitation workers, Social marginalisation, Social norms

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