Equity in sanitation: Empowering women entrepreneurs.
Published on: 20/03/2023
International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8. The theme this year is ‘Embracing Equity.’ Yet when considering celebrating the day, sanitation equity is probably the last thing that comes to mind.
Equity - treating people fairly based on their needs - is necessary to achieve gender equality. You might wonder how access to WASH and equity are related. Gelaye, a woman sanitation entrepreneur, could tell you very clearly.
Gelaye Tadesse is from Busa Woreda in the Oromia region, where she is known in her community as “Haadha SATO,” or “Mother SATO” in the Oromiffa language. She was selected by USAID Transform WASH as a business partner because of her interest in working as a mason trained to install sanitation products for households.
Transform WASH (T/WASH) has been engaging women like Gelaye in the business of providing sanitation products and services since its inception six years ago. The project, in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) and One WASH National Programme (OWNP), is working to strengthen market-based sanitation in Ethiopia. This includes a focus on women-led enterprises with a commitment to achieving 25% representation among all project business partners.
“I was introduced to this profession two years ago,” Gelaye said. “Although I was hesitant at first, the representative of the local health department convinced me to take the masonry training provided by T/WASH and start a business. However, although people recognized the value of a new product like the SATO pan (a low-cost hygienic toilet pan) for improving their toilets, they needed some convincing when it came to my skills as a woman mason/installer. This is a typically male-dominated profession, so it was initially challenging for me to get into the business once I completed the training.”
As a mason, Gelaye has focused her work on installing SATO pans. The installation process involves several different techniques, such as installing cement skirting around the pans, pre-cast mini slabs with embedded pans, and retrofitting existing cement platforms to insert the pans. To gain confidence and demonstrate her skills in the community, Haadha SATO installed a SATO pan in her own toilet and invited her neighbours to see it. They saw that the slab with the SATO pan was odourless, kept flies away, and was easy to clean. This motivated them to place the first orders with Haadha SATO for purchase and installation of the SATO pan. Over the years, she has gained the trust and support of her community and installed SATO pans in various facilities, including schools, health posts, and households. “SATO has changed my life because, as a single mother of three, this job has given me the financial means and economic independence to raise my children properly,” Haadha SATO said.
Despite the many challenges women entrepreneurs face in offering sanitation services, Haadha SATO and other women entrepreneurs are optimistic about their businesses. They often attribute their success to the training and technical support they receive regularly from T/WASH and their local health bureaus. They still face unique challenges, such as derogatory comments and stereotypical attitudes that limit their authority, mobility, and networking opportunities. For instance, it is difficult for WASH women entrepreneurs to attend training away from home because they need to get their husbands' permission, take care of the family, and do household chores. To address such issues and ‘Embrace Equity,’ Transform WASH hosts specialized training for women entrepreneurs to build their knowledge, skills, networks, and business leadership to succeed in the WASH sector.
T/WASH is seeing success engaging women in a male-dominated sector, with a growing proportion of its business partners being female, currently at 17%. However, more needs to be done to increase gender equity in sanitation-related businesses. Women’s participation in the sector can have multiple positive impacts, including increasing equity through creation of economic opportunities, improving value chain efficiency, addressing diverse needs, increasing participation in decision-making, and boosting product uptake. This International Women's Day should remind us that we must advocate for universal access to WASH based on gender equity if we want to see accelerating results.
About Transform WASH
USAID Transform WASH aims to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) outcomes in Ethiopia by increasing market access to and sustained use of a broader spectrum of affordable WASH products and services, with a substantial focus on sanitation. Transform WASH achieves this by transforming the market for low-cost quality WASH products and services: stimulating demand at the community level, strengthening supply chains, and improving the enabling environment for a vibrant private market.
USAID Transform WASH is a USAID-funded activity implemented by PSI in collaboration with SNV, and IRC WASH. The consortium is working closely with government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, the One WASH National Program, and regional and sub-regional governments.
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