Sociology of Sanitation

Sociology of Sanitation South Asian Conference on Sanitation 2018, Pakistan Introduction

Sociology as a discipline has been long understood as a tool, which helps individuals, set appropriate targets in order to save energy, time and money while tackling various sociological issues. It is sociologist’s job to discover the reasons why a phenomenon exists in the form that it does today. Open defecation and poor sanitation and hygiene behaviors are social issue, however, its sociological roots lie in the institution and communities. Therefore, in order to fix sanitation issue, we need to target the inefficiencies, which prevail at institutional level and communities. This approach allows us to set appropriate targets which could prove to be long-term permanent solutions rather than a short term hit on the issue (band aid approach).

Time has proved South Asian and African region to be the most challenging regions when it comes to taking on sociological problems like sanitation. This paper will attempt to highlight the unique approaches a few of the South Asian states have taken in order to better understand the importance of creative thinking and innovation when it comes to changing behavior towards sanitation. This will not only filter out useful information for the readers, but also it is going to help understand why it is so important to keep attached to the context. Educating, government’s participation, civil society’s participation and community’s participation has been the most essential and integral parts of the many steps taken by countries in order to eradicate sanitation issues.

Bangladesh has been part of the solution when it comes developing and implementing new ideas regarding solving sanitation and health issues. The unique nature of approaches, which have been applied in Bangladesh, suggest that along with government’s participation, it is necessary to employ marketing approaches in order to create demand of sanitation facilities. The rural Bangladesh considers health has a luxury; not first priority. Therefore, educating them about the health benefits of employing sanitation facilities will not nudge them towards using the facilities. Sanitation marketing is an emerging field that applies social and commercial marketing approaches to scale up the supply and demand for improved sanitation facilities. This seeks to promote the development of the private entrepreneurs to deliver sustainable sanitation and hygiene products for households and other users. The key elements of this approach are; demand creation through communication and promotion, product developments through multiple design options, market development through local capacity building, quality control through local governing bodies, delivering of products to the doorsteps and innovative financing through linking entrepreneurs to micro businesses. To sum up, this emerging idea of sanitation marketing has been successful in not only understanding the socio-political context of the target area, but also in understanding the deeply rooted desires of people which are used in order to embed in them new habits of hygiene improvement and development.
The Sri Lanka government played the role of making the presence of sanitation facilities a necessity if an owner desires to approve any building for dwelling purposes. This method has allowed for any new construction to include this facility throughout Sri Lanka by force. It is essential to understand that the role of sanction and conformity has been long used as an effective tool of behavior change in society. Therefore, sanctioning the emittance of appropriate sanitation facilities in a household will force people to include them at any cost. This approach teaches us that while it is essential to take on board the local population in order to implement a social policy, it is also necessary to take bold action when the matter in hand is as important as sanitation and hygiene. Health has been considered the basic rights in Sri lanka and the government attempts to make it their utmost priority. It is noted that the trickle-down effect of this attitude has led people of Sri lanka to believe in this right as well. Hence, forced behavioral policies become vital tools for governments, if willing, to implement integral social action as we have seen in the successful case of Sri Lanka.
Contextually grounded social policies have the preeminent chance of succeeding. This grounding of idea consists of learning and un-learning, participation and convergence of interests. It is important to realize that the numbers still show a glim picture of the status of sanitation in India. However, what it does not show is the depth of problem that exists. From caste systems to massive slums, India has to face multiple complexities in order to get through to people. Urbanization has led to development of illegal slum cities with less to no sanitation facilities. This has further created peripheries or boundary walls of polluted areas where all waste is dumped creating a barrier for the people living outside those areas to interact with. The peripheries created in urbanized cities along with the caste system which prevails in rural areas, portray an imbalance of social interaction. Therefore, social scientists have discovered that the first step towards improving is reaching out to people within these social and geographical boundaries. In order to do that, the government has decided to recruit, enthuse and capacitate a group of community workers who can convince and work with the slum communities on safe sanitation. In order to start deconstructing the already existing norms and practices of the society, the social scientists have begun constructing new rituals which promote health backed by their own historical values and traditions. Hence, India sets an example of how important it is to develop a relationship with not only the common man, but also the uncommon.
Pakistan is one of three South Asian countries which met MDG 2015 target of sanitation. The percentage has reached up to 64% with the matter of time as more and more work and efforts are done. Pakistan has adopted Pakistan Approach for Total Sanitation (PATS) in 2011 that is a synthesis of many branded total sanitation models: Community Led Total Sanitation; School Led Total Sanitation; Component Sharing; Sanitation Marketing and Disaster Response. This approach has emphasis towards behavior change and social mobilization enhancing the demand side of sanitation. Presently, the Provincial Government Departments with the support of international and national partner organizations have worked on developing policy frameworks and strategies to address sanitation issues. These efforts have culminated in adoption of scaling up rural sanitation programs by the provinces that are targeted to promote synergies and develop linkages among key actors for the overall sector development. The deliberate efforts of sector partners in country resulted in annual incremental progress from 1.7% to 1.9% during 2000 to 2015. Now, presently, Pakistan is working on understanding the social norms that play key role in adopting and sustaining the change for sustainable impacts. The biggest take away from previewing the approaches Pakistan has taken is that a need of diving deeper into the complexities must be felt.
1. Differentiating between social and sociological problems: The first challenge is to redefine what a problem is. In order to understand this challenge we must take the case study of approaches taken in countries such as Pakistan where the lack of understanding of the issue has led us to employ short term approaches which only eradicate the issue at face value. These pathways are long term and permanent. This as a result, will identify root causes of the issues and highlight inefficiencies in the target area. Finally, working on that area results in permanent eradication of the issue leaving no sign of re-emergence in the future. 2. Lack of ethnographic approaches: The context matters as the social fabric of the society must match the social dimension of interventions that is needed to be applied. This means that understanding the context through social research methodologies is essential. Ethnography has been one of the most effective research methods when it comes to understanding the core base of the society. 3. Understanding Social Construction of Target Society: In order to deconstruct the norms and practices prevailing in the society, it is essential for policy makers to understand how these norms were constructed in the first place. Here, context comes into play once again. Context encompasses language, rituals, religion and social fabric of the society. Social problems such as sanitation and health are deeply rooted into everyday practices; habits. Therefore, in order to understand the society, it is important to identify the fault lines which could potentially get exploited. The challenge here is capacity to employ tools which could unveil this construction, as well as the resistant behavior of the people living in the target area. 4. The myths about Behavior Change: Lastly, sever misconceptions regarding behavioral change has kept us away from setting the right targets. Sociology teaches us that education doesn’t always lead to change in attitudes, it is the attitude which leads to more education. Therefore, the common practice of educating individuals can only lead a society so far. On the other hand, if the attitudes themselves are targeted, the society indulges itself into a self-sustaining mechanism where behavior change leads to social progression.
There is a need to identify key theme questions for those who wish to indulge in the sociological dimension of sanitation. It is essential for the participants to understand that in order to answer these questions, an in-depth study of surface problem, its root causes and analysis is needed. Sanitation is a social problem with a sociological root. 1. What is the sociological root of the social problem that is resistive attitudes of people towards the issue of sanitation? What are the usual patterns of sanitation behaviors among communities and institutes? 2. How sanitation works in social fabric of our community? What is the direction and trend of behavior change? Are we changing habit or we are changing attitudes. For example does eating an apple a day change your attitude towards the benefits it provides or does learning the benefits of eating an apple a day helps you develop a habit of eating a fruit every day? In simple words, does habit lead to change in attitude or the change in attitude lead to development of a habit? 3. What are the current open defecation trends and construction of latrines in the region? Are social norms changing? What are the key drivers and motivators for the said attitude? 4. Are we looking at gender with a perspective of their roles, responsibilities, access to resources, time and space, participation and decision making in context of current norms? 5. What are the societal behaviors for sanitation is it considered public good or private good? Is it a need or luxury? What lessons are learned from recent studies and case studies like Jacobabad study on willingness to pay in Pakistan or other in the region? 6. What are the checklists for sustainability? Are we using social mobilization approach to comprehend the real problems and gaps like water safety, water quality, and fecal sludge management? What are the social norms for total sanitation? Do we understand the key behaviors for total sanitation? 7. Do we understand social norms that exist at institutional level for water and sanitation