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Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(7), 794;

The Role of Perceived Social Norms in Rural Sanitation: An Explorative Study from Infrastructure-Restricted Settings of South Ethiopia

Department of Social Geography and Regional Development, Faculty of Science, Charles University, Prague 12843, Czech Republic
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 1 June 2017 / Revised: 28 June 2017 / Accepted: 11 July 2017 / Published: 17 July 2017
(This article belongs to the Section Environmental Science and Engineering)
PDF [2286 KB, uploaded 17 July 2017]


The perception of social sanitation norms (PSSNs) around unacceptability of open defecation has been a key aspect of recent sanitation interventions. However, underlying mechanisms through which “reconstructed” PSSNs affect sanitation outcomes have been a black box. This explorative cross-sectional study examines direct and indirect links between PSSNs and sanitation safety using data from structured interviews and observations in 368 households in rural South Ethiopia. In addition to a positive association between PSSNs and sanitation safety, we propose and examine the following two mechanisms: First, we confirm a potentially adverse feedback of PSSNs on future sanitation safety by enhancing the emotional satisfaction with current sanitation practice (satisfaction independent of the functionality of sanitation facilities). Second, inspired by the social amplification/attenuation of risk framework, we demonstrate that PSSNs work as a “social filter” that can amplify or attenuate the effects of other variables targeted in sanitation interventions such as perceived health-related and non-health risks and benefits associated with open defecation and private latrine ownership, respectively, and factual hygiene and sanitation knowledge. These findings imply that PSSNs are not only important per se, but they are also important instrumentally because sanitation outcomes depend upon the capacity of social influences to shape the perception of sanitation risks and benefits and sanitation-related awareness in desirable ways. The mechanisms outlined in this paper as well as the sustainability of sanitation outcomes depend on whether and how social sanitation norms are internalized. View Full-Text
Keywords: Ethiopia; CLTS; open defecation; sanitation; social norms; toilets Ethiopia; CLTS; open defecation; sanitation; social norms; toilets

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Novotný, J.; Kolomazníková, J.; Humňalová, H. The Role of Perceived Social Norms in Rural Sanitation: An Explorative Study from Infrastructure-Restricted Settings of South Ethiopia. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14, 794.

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