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Shining a Light: How lighting in or around sanitation facilities affects the risk of gender-based violence in camps

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Camps are places of refuge for people fleeing conflict and disaster, but they can be dangerous, especially for women and girls. In their first months, many camps rely on communal sanitation facilities – a quick and cost-effective way of meeting immediate needs and minimizing public health risks until a better solution can be developed.

In 2016, the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) set up a research challenge asking: Does lighting in or around sanitation facilities reduce the risk of gender-based violence (GBV)? During 2017 and 2018, Oxfam and researchers from the Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) at Loughborough University carried out research to try to answer this question. This report presents the main findings from this research.

The objectives of the research challenge were to identify factors that affect usage rates of sanitation facilities – including those relating to dignity and privacy, as well as risks of GBV – and to assess whether, how and to what extent lighting could mitigate such risks. The research comprised a literature review, three field studies, and the compilation of eight short case studies focusing on lighting. Three locations were selected for the field studies: Omugo camp in Northern Uganda, Aburi camp in Damboa, NorthEast Nigeria and Hamman Al Alil 2 camp in Iraq. The studies had three stages: firstly, baseline research combined a digital survey with observations, focus group discussions (FGDs) and key informant interviews (KIIs) with residents of the camps, officials and local and international humanitarian actors. Secondly, a lighting intervention was carried out: the distribution of handheld solar lights in Nigeria, installation of fixed solar wall lights in Iraq and of solar lamp posts in Uganda. Finally, for the endline research, the digital survey, observations, FGDs and KIIs were repeated to try to assess the impact of the light on perceptions of the risk of GBV and usage rates of sanitation facilities.

For the purposes of this challenge the research team looked at latrines and bathing shelters (or showers in the case of Iraq), and any variety of portable lighting (e.g. torches or lanterns) or fixed lighting (on posts or fixed to walls/ceilings). The research team asked residents in camps about their perception of the risk of some specific forms of GBV: people looking into the facilities to watch you use them (‘peeping’); sexual harassment on the way to facilities; sexual violence on the way to facilities; and sexual violence inside the facilities. These were used as indicators to measure ‘fear of GBV’.

This report presents the main findings from this research. We hope that readers of this report and the associated materials will be motivated to take action to continually improve the safety of people – and especially of women and girls and those who are most vulnerable – living in camps all over the world.