Championing women through the work of the Global Sanitation Fund

Date: 9th March 2017

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As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations this week, wsscc.org is highlighting the work that WSSCC does to promote gender equality and women and girl’s empowerment.

WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund (GSF), plays a central role in this work. Active in 13 countries, the Fund aims to drive achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6.2 – to provide sanitation and hygiene for everyone, everywhere paying attention to the needs of women, girls and the most vulnerable.

GSF-supported programmes engage women at all levels – including government officials, country programme staff, WSSCC National Coordinators, women’s groups, community leaders and champions and WSSCC members. Programmes are designed – or modified, using evidence from GSF studies – to incorporate gender considerations and equity dimensions.

The Fund’s role in leveraging women in efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene for all is seen in the examples below:

Promoting gender-friendly facilities and menstrual hygiene management

Credit: WSSCC/Javier Acebal

Last year, recognizing that it was facing inequality and discrimination challenges, the GSF-supported programme in India undertook an internal assessment to better incorporate the needs of women and girls in programme planning and implementation.

As a result, modifications to programme design have been made. These allow for sub-grantee organizations to receive training in gender issues, especially in the art of engaging and communicating with both men and women in a manner that makes them feel comfortable talking about sanitation. Women are informed of their important entitlements under the programme.  Boys and men are being made aware of the different needs of men and women, so that toilet design is more gender-appropriate. Toilet designs that have a safe and secure space for changing menstrual materials with water available for cleansing are being promoted, and women are consulted about their location. In addition, the programme is promoting multi-stakeholder events and challenges for the design of gender-equitable toilets and also sanitary materials.

Recommendations from the assessment have been shared with the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.  In 2013, after WSSCC advocacy, this ministry issued a modification in the Nirmal Bharat Abhiya Policy Guidelines to include activities related to menstrual hygiene management as a permissible activity.

In the GSF-supported Jhanjharpur Block in Bihar state, women now play a heightened role in making decisions that influence sanitation behaviour, attitudes and practices, having formed a women’s monitoring committee.

“Focusing on women and their social roles can help more women and women’s groups emerge as leaders for community mobilization. Further, we feel our experience in making the village ODF can be extended to ensure achievement of other needs in the village,” said a committee representative.

Sustaining sanitation through community advocacy, income generation and resource mobilization

Credit: WSSCC/Alma Felic

The GSF-supported programme in Senegal promotes income-generating activities that enable women to not only gain an additional source of income, but also empowers them with a central role in supporting village funds.

In Wassacode village, an open defecation free (ODF) village in Senegal’s Matam region, Seynabou (pictured) is the Chair of the village WASH committee.  Following training from the GSF implementing partner, Women’s Health Education and Prevention Strategies Alliance (WHEPSA), she and other women help villagers understand the importance of regular handwashing to prevent diseases.

The women support their village and other communities through the local production of soap, which helps increase their personal income. Proceeds from soap sales also create additional resources for the village fund, which finances sanitation improvements for the most vulnerable.  ODF status can only be maintained when all community members use latrines, and these funds are used in part to assist those who cannot pay for their own latrines.

So far, more than 1,000 women have been empowered to manufacture soap for income generating activities and to contribute to community solidarity funds. WHEPSA staff also conduct menstrual hygiene management training. Since 2013, all of the 100 plus villages covered by WHEPSA have maintained ODF status.

Meet a local government sanitation champion in Uganda

Credit: WSSCC/Patrick England

Through the GSF-supported Uganda Sanitation Fund’s  introduction of community-led behaviour change approaches, passionate extension workers are emerging as powerful champions for their peers.

Annet Birungi is a Health Assistant in Lira district who has emerged as one of the District Health Office’s star facilitators. As the leader of her team, she has accompanied 12 communities on their journey to end open defecation.

She explains: “After I attended the Ministry of Health training, I made sure that once I got to the field, I would perform my best. As I love the communities that I work in, I wanted to deepen my knowledge on this new Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach.” Her enthusiasm for working with communities soon earned her a position as a team leader.

Annet uses songs, dances, and humour to build a strong bond with the communities. For her, being an effective facilitator means, “having good listening skills, getting down to earth with communities by supporting the emergence of local technologies and initiatives, and using flexibility and innovativeness to trigger behaviour change.” She now supports her colleagues to build their own skills.

The Ministry of Health has asked her to help provide technical assistance for three other neighbouring districts. “My pride is seeing communities with a healthy environment, and my vision is to see not only an ODF Lira, but an ODF Uganda,” she says.

Read more about the lessons that Annet and her colleagues have shared from their work in Uganda

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