Rohingya WASH Facilities for womans health & Wellbeing with oxfam

BRIEF

To deliver conceptual pilot designs; of latrines, bathing spaces and communal spaces, that meet the needs of women and girls that are culturally and geographically sensitive and specifically designed for female hygiene and safety needs. To do this the social architects must carry out transect walks and lead focus group discussions to understand each camp and their specific issues.

REFLECTION

This was an extremely unique opportunity and I was humbled yet apprehensive to take part as it was a project in which my design output and specifications could really change people’s lives.  

Before I arrived I engaged with existing literature surrounding menstrual hygiene in camps, and the Rohingya crisis, provided to me by Oxfam, which gave me a baseline gauge on the current situation. 

On site, I had to understand each camp we worked in with regards to their context and the unique community that lived in each camp, therefore create adaptable and sensitive designs proposals. I really had to think on my feet and find pragmatic, resourceful solutions under economic and regulation constraints. The project was named ‘The social Architecture project’ due to the unique perspective we could bring with our architectural training, that spans disciplines, and requires us to make holistically considered design conclusions. I was really pleased to hear that Oxfam had made our research open source across all charities which encouraged a baseline improvement for female WASH facilities across all refugee camps, however there is still a long way to go. 

This project really stripped back, and highlighted the fundamental principles of architecture as a space that facilitates safe, hygienic and functional environments that improve peoples quality of life.

THE DESIGN STORY

In the summer of 2018 I travelled, along with another Architectural student from Newcastle university, to the Rohingya Refugee camp in Bangladesh. Oxfam invited me to join them on a project to redesigning refugee WASH facilities to make a woman’s toilet experience safer, more hygienic and more practical. 

Currently there are over 800,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazaar; a region in the south-east of Bangladesh, in temporary accommodation over seen by multiple NGOs. Due to the make shift nature of the camps women’s health and specific needs are often overlooked due to the greater and more immediate need to provide the basics. However Oxfam were now starting to realise the negative repercussions this reality was having on female refugee populations. 

Firstly, I went on a transect walk through the different camps to understand the context, which varied from flood plains to undulating overlooked hills, to the current lavatory and washing facility situation. I then held focus group discussions with women and girls to understand what they saw as the most pressing issues. Through these discussions we identified short term design solutions and long term design solutions. In some areas, the undulating terrain of the camp, meant that loo facilities were over looked, therefore we introduced woven wood under clear PVC, this ment dappled light could still enter the toilet during the day, without women feeling overlooked.

The ritual of menstruation in the camp is different to western practices, due to cultural and resource limitations, during a woman’s time of the month she uses a rag to collect the blood. However due to the nature of the facilities and the privacy surrounding menstruation, many women didn’t feel comfortable drying their cloths anywhere, leading to damp, dirty cloths that harvested bacteria, obviously a huge health concern. In order to overcome this we did two things, we proposed the idea of the raised shelf in the toilets and washing facilities with access to sunlight to directly dry and kill bacteria. In more communal spaces we created a pigeon hole system where each woman would have her own drying box to ensure that everyone has a private place to store their rag. 

There is often no gender segregation in lavatories meaning women felt unsafe when entering, occupying and leaving the facilities. We identified different ways of manipulating screening to ensure an elongated route that separated the male and female ritual. We also proposed a new method of drainage and sewage collection, involving urine diversion, to overcome the issue of space and take advantage of the ammonia in the urine to grow plants in the surrounding area around the toilets. This would have a knock on effect of securing soil on the hills and providing a small amount of fresh produce, such as the bottleguard plant. 

Following our trip to the camp, our findings were shared with multiple NGOs; save the children, UNHR etc, in Cox’s Bazaar to encourage a conversation and implement change in all the camps in Cox’s Bazaar and hopefully in other humanitarian camp situations. The findings were discussed in this paper: 

Farrington, Michelle. “Social and Feminist Design in Emergency Contexts: The Women’s Social Architecture Project, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.” Gender & Development: Humanitarian Action and Crisis Response 27, no. 2 (2019): 295-315.

 

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