Women leading the way

Themes: Behaviour change Community management Gender Health impact Hygiene Sanitation WASH Water
Countries: Bangladesh Bangladesh-local Ghana Ghana-local Madagascar Madagascar-local Zambia Zambia-local

“Water, sanitation and hygiene are basic necessities in order to sustain lives. When women are affected by poor services, you end up with a weak community where you can’t expect great development.” – Josephine Moono

Clean water and safe sanitation has a huge impact on the lives of women. In the communities where we work, we have seen women taking a leading role to ensure that services reach all residents, taking into account everyone’s needs.

This International Women’s Day, we are profiling women on different levels of the water and sanitation chain who are making a huge difference in the communities they serve.

A link between the community and utility

Josephine Moono is a Community Development Officer with Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC), the utility tasked with the role of providing water and sanitation services in Lusaka, Zambia.

“My role is to be a link between the community and LWSC.”

As a woman who regularly engages with community members, Josephine believes that it is very important to include women in the development of water and sanitation services.

“In every new development at LWSC we sit in planning meetings and make sure that when proposals are being made to build new infrastructures, women are involved in the process. If we are putting communal taps, we also check the distances and ensure taps are after every 10 households. By doing so, we ensure that women who are ferrying water from one point to another, do not have to walk long distances.”

“We also educate women on the usage and sustainability of new structures such as flushable toilets and water kiosks… This also gives them a sense of ownership. If you own something you take care of it, and if you don’t own it, you can vandalise it. Engaging women ensures that infrastructures are well taken care of.”

“I have learnt a lot from WSUP as they involve us every time… and I feel happy to be part of the WASH team. If we don’t take part in WASH activities as women, we are dragging ourselves backwards. Women are pivotal in pushing things forward.”

Educating landlords on the importance of good sanitation

For landlords, providing clean water makes a huge difference to their tenants, and for their businesses.

As an Environment Officer at the Ga West Municipal Assembly in Ghana, Catherine Ashigbi educates landlords on the importance of providing good sanitation facilities for their tenants.

“I meet with landlords to talk to them about providing toilet facilities in the home. I sometimes organise joint meetings with landlords and tenants and guide them to make decisions of building the right toilet. I talk to them about the various options and I link them to toilet sales agents, artisans, and micro finance institutions.’’

“As part of my work, I try to focus on women and girls…in the absence of sanitary facilities, women often walk long distances to use public toilets with little privacy. They experience higher rates of infection from poor sanitation.”

“Over the years, WSUP has organised training and I have received training on design and management which I try and impart to the women I meet. I can educate them on the resources and options available and guide them to make the right decision.”

When asked how challenging it is for her to work with male landlords, she remarked, “Culturally some men look down on women. I often find it challenging when dealing with difficult male landlords who refuse to provide toilets. Sometimes when you take legal action against them, you make a lot of enemies within the community.’’

“Notwithstanding the challenges, my efforts have led to the provision of decent toilet facilities within the communities I work. Through the help of WSUP and the government subsidy programme, over 3000 toilets have been built within the last 2 years. I feel proud of the change I see in the communities, they are much cleaner now.’’

Improving hygiene habits in school

36 year-old Omega has been the Director of Tsarafara primary school in Antananarivo, Madagascar since September 2017.

Upon her arrival 19 months ago, she was appalled by the state of the toilet facilities in the school. The 7 toilets that were used by over 500 students were in a very bad condition, with broken doors and taps and no running water and soap.

Omega was determined to change this.

“As we interact regularly with the local representatives of the Ministry of Education, I didn’t hesitate to make a request for the renovation of the sanitary block of the school,” said Omega.

WSUP has been working with various schools in Antananarivo to promote good sanitation and hygiene practices. In Tsarafara school in particular, three new toilet cubicles were built, 1 shower room, 2 handwashing stations, and a garbage bin were installed. WSUP was also involved in training teachers and the school WASH committee on improving students’ hygiene behaviour.

“With the new facilities available, teachers can now sensitize the children on the importance of good hygiene habits and keeping the latrines clean.”

“The students are now beginning to see the value of cleanliness. I randomly call students to check their cleanliness… I think that a large majority are starting to acquire good habits now. Before, the students were ashamed when I checked their nails in front of everyone, but now they come rushing to show me.”

Promoting menstrual hygiene management

University student Shadhona Rani is a community volunteer in Rangpur, Bangladesh, who conducts regular sessions on menstrual hygiene management in her community.

The Hotath Nogor slum where Shadhona works is home to 86 families who have migrated from different parts of the country. She herself belongs to a poor family and her father is the only earning member of the household.

Following her appointment as a volunteer, Shadhona received basic training and within a few days became popular in the community. Sadhona learned that most of the girls in her area were not maintaining good menstrual hygiene habits. Through sessions and one-to-one counselling, she trained adolescent girls and their parents and encouraged them to use sanitary pads.

Through the project, Shadhona was able to start a small business of selling sanitary napkins and now delivers it to people’s homes. During her rounds, she not only sells pads but also checks that they are maintaining good hygiene practices.

One community member said, “Sister Shadhona taught us lots of things which we didn’t know before – how to use sanitary pads, dispose them etc. Now we do not stay at home during menstruation and do our regular work. We do not miss school and we play with our friends and classmates.”

Shadhona dreams of expanding her business and wants to engage other girls in this work so that they too can become independent.

Managing water services in the community

Queen Mwape has been a water kiosk operator in John Laing, Zambia for about 8 months and is excited about the new services in the community.

Before becoming a kiosk operator, she used to sell second hand clothes which meant that she would spend days away from the family. Now, she doesn’t have to worry about being away from her family as the kiosk is right next to her home.

Like many others in the community, she revels in the joy of no longer having to walk long distances to fetch water. There is also plenty of water available for drinking and cooking as well as for bathing, cleaning, washing and other necessities.

She is particularly happy because the other women in the community say that now that with a kiosk close by, they can fetch water from as early as 5am. They do not have to queue for long hours, and now have the time to do other chores around the house.

“We are grateful for the kiosks.”

Don’t miss our blog on gender balance in the water and sanitation workforce