WSUP’s Wonderful Women in WASH

Themes: Behaviour change Community management Customer experience Finance Gender Health impact Hygiene Planning Public/shared toilets Regulation Research Sanitation Utilities WASH Water
Countries: Global

While Aklima sees herself as a facilitator, Pascaline wants to build her own sanitation marketing business

The growing number of female leaders in water, sanitation and hygiene is improving communication with local communities and unleashing new approaches and ideas. On this year’s International Women’s Day, we focus on two of WSUP’s women who are transforming lives for people living in low-income urban communities, day in, day out.

Aklima Khatun, WSUP’s Hygiene Specialist, Bangladesh

The water, sanitation and hygiene sector involves complex operations in different areas, from planning to finance, infrastructure, and people’s behaviour. It strongly depends, however, on one word: connections. As much as pipes must be connected to taps and toilets, people must be connected to messages, leaders, services, and goals. In some of the largest cities in Bangladesh, many of the human connections in the sector have been fomented and established by Aklima Khatun, WSUP’s Hygiene Specialist, based in Dhaka.

“Facilitation is my passion”, says Aklima. “I saw a circular from a prominent organization in Bangladesh regarding water sanitation (when it was called WatSan). I then applied as a training coordinator – my main responsibility was facilitation. That was how started my journey in water and sanitation, back in 2000.”

Sharing knowledge has been an old passion of her family. “Ever since childhood my dream was to become a teacher, like my father. I often went to my father’s school and observed his teaching technique.”

Aklima Khatun providing training to teachers in Rangpur, as part of a school hygiene programme

As a female leader in her sector, Aklima has faced professional challenges and hurdles that affected other women. “All of us, women, know we are not supposed to use the washroom in front of men, especially strangers, or male colleagues”, she says. In her early days as a WASH specialist, however, available facilities did not provide the appropriate conditions for that simple right to privacy to be fully exercised.

“Back then, males and females used the same washroom. Also, I had to frequently travel from each training centre to another using local transport, and there wasn’t a single usable washroom exclusively for females. It was a challenge for every woman.” The situation has improved, Aklima says, thanks to the contribution from people like her and other women in the sector who have revolutionised the WASH provisions in Bangladesh, including access to female-only lavatories.

From a position of someone who has seen significant progress, but understands the need to go much further, Aklima has some important advice to women starting in the water & sanitation sector.

“WASH is a basic need in each human being, and anybody can choose a WASH career”, she says. “But this is not a desk base job in an air-conditioned room, with a corporate-style culture. You have to go to the field on a regular basis, to a slum, and build relationships with low-income communities, mobilize the locals, link with Local Government Institutions (LGIs), and monitor their toilets.”

Does she enjoy all that? “Oh, yes! I really enjoy my job a lot. I am very happy doing it.”


Pascaline Ranaivomanana, Lead Supervisor of Toilet Sales Agents (TSA), Madagascar

Increasing the access to safe sanitation within low-income communities requires one first step: information. Residents must know about both the risks of unsafe sanitation and the existence and benefits of good available services. WSUP’s Pascaline Ranaivomanana provides that information, by promoting the use of Clean Toilet, a programme created by company Kabone Madio, by households and other entities.

“As a woman, I understand very well the challenges posed by non-hygienic, unsafe latrines, faced mainly by girls and women during the night and during the menstrual period”, says Pascaline. “This allows me to promote good hygiene practices and behaviours, but at the same time to contribute to the development of sanitation market and businesses with the involvement of local private operators.”

Pascaline has been using her marketing skills to promote good sanitation services to low-income residents

Her role as a Lead Supervisor of sales agents, under WSUP’s Sanitation Market Development Programme, is all about elaborating and applying the right messages to residents.

“I used my marketing skills to contribute to the implementation of the programme and improve access to sanitation”, says Pascaline, who first worked as a TSA for one year, between 2018 and 2019. “I managed to sell sanitation products for the improvement of more than a hundred household latrines.”

Currently a Lead Supervisor coordinating and coaching six TSAs, Pascaline has an eye on the future, when she wants to see talent encouraged and turning into entrepreneurship. “My vision is to create my own sanitation marketing development enterprise and help young people create their own income-generating activities.”


Top image: Aklima Khatun working on a campaign during Menstrual Hygiene Day in Bangladesh

To mark International Women’s Day 2023 we will also be putting the spotlight on some of the wonderful women we partner with in utilities, communities and businesses across our countries. Visit our LinkedIn profile to see more about these inspirational women.