According to Faustina Boachie, head of Ghana Water Company’s Low-Income Customer Support Unit, there is a strong link between poor water and sanitation access and the socio-economic development and the political position of women.
“As a young girl, my sisters and I used to walk over two miles in search of water growing up in Obuasi in the late 1980s,” says Faustina.
“Even when I was in the university, I used to go in search of water from affluent people’s homes as we did not have our own private connection. We used to be subjected to insults and sometimes being ridiculed by other children. It brings a feeling of inferiority complex when water and toilets are non-existent in homes and young women have to queue for such services in awful conditions.”
“The situation becomes pronounced when girls are in their monthly cycles and have to request for permission to attend to nature’s call away from school – they never come back. Some refuse to go to school to avoid being disdained by their mates and the opposite sex.”
Nowadays, Faustina works with partners such as the sector ministry, donors, citizens, and water and sanitation service providers to ensure more reliable, more affordable and safer water services to low-income customers across Ghana.
Increasing water access to 100,000 residents
And with support of WSUP and other development partners, her outfit has markedly increased access to water supply services to more than 100,000 residents in low income communities in more than six regions in Ghana, and economically empowered women manning standpipes as vendors.
But these achievements have not come easily, especially in an industry often dominated men.
“At the middle-management level where I find myself in my utility, less than 10 per cent of my colleagues are women. The case is even worse at the senior-management level. Most women are found at the senior and junior level, albeit dominated by men. I am surrounded mostly by male engineers in the office. Working with them can be difficult at times coupled with me not being an engineer but a social scientist.”
How poor services impact on time poverty
To Faustina, poor WASH services perpetuate what the World Bank terms as ‘time poverty’ – the situation where women’s time is consumed by routine and non-productive tasks looking for a resource that should be close to her.
Faustina says that more can be done to empower women to enable them contribute their quota to development issues.
“Since WASH issues directly affect us, we should inspire ourselves and build our own capacity to rise up to the challenge facing us. Women should be at the forefront ensuring that water is supplied at all times, giving room for minimal or no interruptions, cleaning our own homes and frontage of houses, making sure that toilets are clean and devoid of germs in our own homes. When we do all these things, our children shall see and also pick up these behaviours in their adult life and also teach their own children.”
Involving women in service development
Being the Chair of the African Water Association (AfWA) Women’s Network in her organization, she thinks the need to involve women in the development of service cannot be overemphasized.
“As the Chair of the AfWA Women’s Network in my utility, I work with other women to not only learn and share experiences amongst professional women in the water and sanitation sector; raise awareness of Professional women about their leadership potential and promote the gender policy in sector but most importantly contribute value to the water sector. The network holds the promise of empowering women by giving them an effective voice in decisions affecting their livelihoods and by promoting their role and contribution as agents of change”.
She believes that, “If women become the anchor on which development of services revolves, we can change the future of our children and also help to educate the next generation. The insights and abilities of women if made available is critical to shape issues and discussions bordering on development.”
With strong and committed women leaders like Faustina, a future where women work not in isolation but partner and build business relationships with others to ensure service delivery at scale in Ghana, is increasingly possible.
WSUP’s work with the Ghana Water Company has been funded by:
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, The Dutch Government’s Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), Inlaks, Mulago Foundation, Skoll Foundation, The Stone Family Foundation, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Unilever, USAID, and Vitol Foundation.