Juliet Willetts and Simone Soeters recently returned from Sumbawa in eastern Indonesia where they conducted the scoping visit for the second of our research projects. This part of the research explores how women can better participate in and benefit from contributing to the WASH workforce, starting first with a focus on government roles and workplaces. We travelled together with three in-country research partners from the University of Indonesia’s Centre for Gender Studies, and worked collaboratively with Plan Indonesia, our local Civil Society Organisation (CSO) partner in eastern Indonesia.

We tested the initial research design and interview guides in two sub-districts (Lape and Rhee) and also with district level government staff. We focused on key roles responsible for delivery of WASH services, interviewing both women and men in these roles. This included sanitarians, environmental health professionals tasked with engaging directly with communities, as well as other leadership roles.

In Jakarta, we also met with relevant national level ministries. It was encouraging to discover their support for and keen interest in the research. They noted the need to better understand how gender dynamics and norms in the government workforce may be impacting WASH policy, programming and outcomes.

We had undertaken a preliminary literature review before the trip, and our initial findings were mostly in line with that. This included that levels of education, access to the workforce (including the face of competing unpaid care responsibilities) and gender norms and perceptions all affected women’s contribution, opportunities and leadership. We have also noted three important aspects to look into further; how power, position and pathways within the government workforce may provide insight into how inclusive leadership in WASH could be improved.

The team’s key words to describe the week (aside from ‘fun’, ‘great learning’ etc.) included ‘contradictions’ which highlights the changing gender context of eastern Indonesia and how new ideas and values are colliding with previously established culture and norms. Based on this successful scoping visit, we are adjusting our research design and moving ahead with data collection next month. So, watch this space!