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Accounting for Gender-Specific Diversity through the Participatory Design Method in the Provision of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Facilities

The recent enforced migration of large numbers of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh has disproportionately affected the underprivileged and the marginalised, thereby posing additional challenges to the relief effort of having to ensure an equitable distribution of scarce resources to a diverse group. Rohingya women, and adolescent girls in particular, who face particular barriers because of the intersectionality of their age and gender, have been considered as appropriate study material to investigate how Participatory Design (PD) methods deal with diversity in a displacement context. Since these barriers can be (re)produced through the safety and security of access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities, OXFAM’s Women’s Social Architecture (WSA) project was chosen as a case study. This is a PD project, whose aim was to co-design socially conscious and culturally appropriate WASH facilities that would provide safe and secure access to Rohingya women and adolescent girls in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps in Bangladesh. The paper identifies challenges and vulnerabilities relevant to the safety and security of access to WASH facilities, which are divided into groups according to four capability-associated dimensions adapted from a framework developed by GAGE 2017. The data is then critically analysed using Nancy Fraser’s feminist social justice framework in terms of the extent to which the PD methods identified and addressed evidence of pre-existing gender-specific misrecognition and maldistribution leading to a disparity of participation within the 4 capability-associated dimensions. The analysis shows that the particular PD methods used by the WSA project identified gender-specific injustices in the WASH sector following the initial emergency response to the refugee crisis in all four dimensions and that parity of participation was generally restored through the interventions instituted by the project in most but not in all cases. The paper concludes with eight gender-specific recommendations, which were extracted from the critical feminist analysis, the first five of which relate to the emergency response and the last three to the PD process.

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