Can new pan-African policy guidelines help bring about national sanitation programmes?

With 72% of the 962 million people living in Sub-Saharan Africa lacking access to basic sanitation, and governments struggling to increase access, new action is required to accelerate progress towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6. This situation has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, further underscoring the need for African governments to meet their national, […]


Shared sanitation has immensely contributed to sanitation access in urban areas, but is at best considered a “limited” solution due to the lack of quality standards within Sustainable Development Goal 6.

This policy brief presents the main results of the QUISS project (Quality Indicators of Shared Sanitation), a three-country comparative mixed-methods study that identified the key criteria of what constitutes “acceptable quality” shared toilets in urban low-income contexts and provides recommendations for strengthening the acceptability, functionality and sustainability of shared sanitation facilities.

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Country specific policy briefs:

QUISS Policy Brief: Bangladesh

QUISS Policy Brief: Ghana

QUISS Policy Brief: Kenya

What does ‘quality’ sanitation mean in low-income urban areas?

By Sam Drabble, Head of Evaluation, Research & Learning Broadly speaking, when we advocate for investment in sanitation, it is because we are trying to achieve two critically important aims: improve human health, and improve wellbeing or quality of life. But to what extent are sanitation interventions actually achieving these aims? In many cases, the […]


This discussion paper explores how high-quality sanitation can be achieved in low-income urban areas in developing contexts. It is based on findings from four research projects conducted under, or in association with, WSUP’s Urban Sanitation Research Initiative 2016–2020 (USRI), funded by DFID.

The four research projects considered here are:

  1. The Faecal Pathogen Flows study in Dhaka, Bangladesh — aiming to track and model how faecal pathogens move through urban low-income communities (LICs), as a tool to support sanitation intervention planning in developing contexts.
  2. The MapSan study carried out in Maputo, Mozambique — one of the largest and most rigorous studies ever conducted of the health impacts of an urban sanitation intervention.
  3. The QUISS study — based on large-scale surveys in Bangladesh, Ghana and Kenya, aiming to identify minimum standards for high-quality shared sanitation in urban contexts, and workable indicators of shared sanitation quality.
  4. The Clean Team evaluation — assessing customer experience among customers of Clean Team Ghana, a container-based sanitation enterprise.

Promoting safe pit-emptying services in urban, low-income areas is required to achieve universal access to safely-managed sanitation.

To evaluate strategies for increasing access to safe, regulated pit-emptying services, this study compared the performance of different groups in coordinating incentivized emptying services to low-income areas of Kisumu, Kenya.

Improving sanitation conditions in low-income communities is a major challenge for rapidly growing cities of the developing world. Residents of low-income communities generally do not have access to formal, regulated sanitation services such as centralized sewerage networks.

Instead, they typically rely on unsafe practices for removing and disposing of fecal sludge, such as connecting pit latrines or septic tanks to drains, or employing informal manual emptiers who remove fecal sludge by hand or buckets and either bury it onsite or dispose of it in nearby waterways.

This study quantified the gap between market prices (supply) and the amount households are willing to pay (demand) for safe emptying services in Kisumu’s low-income areas.

Gender inequity at the level of policy, regulation and management limits the voice and participation of women decision-makers and can perpetuate inequities throughout the sanitation sector. To address this, the Urban Sanitation Research Initiative aims to analyse gender inequity in educational and professional settings of sanitation-related organisations.

  • Among staff at sanitation-related public-sector institutions in Kenya, a large majority of both men and women recognise that women have different needs and priorities when it comes to sanitation.
  • Both men and women showed awareness of the needs of women regarding particular attributes of latrines, such as menstrual hygiene management (MHM) facilities or physical safety.
  • A more participatory approach allowed more gendered perspectives and seemed to lead to gender-sensitive programming and policies; an infrastructure-led approach, focusing more on hardware installation and less on participation, led to less gender-sensitive programming and policies.

This research was led by Athena Infonomics; more information about the project and other reports can be found here.

Gender inequity at the level of policy, regulation and management limits the voice and participation of women decision-makers and can perpetuate inequities throughout the sanitation sector. To address this, the Urban Sanitation Research Initiative aims to analyse gender inequity in educational and professional settings of sanitation-related organisations.

  • Women working at sanitation-related public-sector institutions in Kenya reported challenges at work, which limited their professional aspirations, their voice and their influence on policies.
  • Barriers exist at all stages of career development: girls face gender bias in school when pursuing technical degrees; young career-women must balance greater familial obligations than men; and mid-career women lack many of the networking opportunities that men have.
  • Bullying and sexual harassment of women have not been adequately addressed thus far, leaving some women with little support and few alternatives.

It is crucial for the sanitation sector to meet the basic needs of their female staff, such as:

  1. Full access to MHM-friendly latrines at all sites, including waste treatment plants and field sites.
  2. Maternity and paternity leave, flexible scheduling and lactation rooms for new mothers
  3. For young mothers and fathers, create nearby or on-site alternatives to workshops and conferences that require travel. When travel is unavoidable, make arrangements for young mothers to return quickly in an emergency.
  4. Provide PPE that are designed for women, for all jobs that require protective gear.
  5. Create a culture that is intolerant to sexual jokes in professional settings. Create confidential systems that protect victims of sexual harassment, and discourage sexual predators.
  6. Create professional groups, systems and events which allow women to network, mentor and support each other, during hours and in locations that are friendly to women.
  7. Educate managers and staff of the benefits of both gender equity among staff, and equal representation of women and men among management.
  8. Make salary structures and promotion policies transparent and ensure that all employees are considered equally.

This research was led by Athena Infonomics; more information about the project and other reports can be found here.

Gender inequity at the level of policy, regulation and management limits the presence, voice, participation and power of women decision-makers. These gender-based inequities can then be perpetuated throughout the sanitation sector, as the needs of women and girls are inadequately addressed by programs and policies that are designed largely by men. A seemingly simple way to address women’s access to sanitation and related issues is to increase the representation of women in firms and public bodies that design products, services and interventions in the WaSH sector.

We hypothesize that increasing diversity in the design and development of products and services will help to ensure that all users are well represented, and the unique needs and problems of each user type will be more likely to be addressed.

Under this hypothesis, addressing the unique and pressing needs of women and girls in the sanitation sector requires a look behind the curtain, interrogating the internal workings of the organisations that make and implement sanitation policy, regulation and services.

Our project aims to do this in the Kenyan sanitation sector, through two objectives: (i) identify the barriers that women face in attaining decision-making posts in sanitation-related public institutions in Kenya and (ii) interrogate whether women prioritize different things when it comes to access to sanitation, as compared to male leaders in this field.

The Urban Sanitation Research Initiative aims to analyse the internal workings of organisations that make and implement sanitation policy, regulation and services to address four specific questions: (a) the gender balance in decision-making/technical roles in these organisations; (b) how attitudes to sanitation vary between male and female decision-makers; (c) the key barriers to female participation in these roles; (d) provide recommendations for equitable recruitment, placement and career advancement of women.

Across six national and County sanitation-related institutions in Kenya, an average of 37% of top-level staff were women. Corporate leadership roles are particularly unevenly split between genders.

This mapping exercise is part of a wider analysis of attitudes of decision-makers in the sanitation sector in Kenya and the barriers to these roles for women.

This research was led by Athena Infonomics; a summary of a literature review from this project can be found here.