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Essential role of women in Community-led Total Sanitation

Published on: 07/08/2014

One of the objectives of the Pan-Africa programme is the empowerment of communities through the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) process in eight African countries.  Four years into the process and the stories and documents emerging from the countries show that particularly women are playing an important role in CLTS. Women are fully involved in decisions related to CLTS at both community and household level.

They take on the role of natural leaders, become volunteer health workers, help construct toilets and have a big role in improving hygiene behaviour.

Three examples from the programme showcase how women lead and benefit from the CLTS process:

Example 1

Championing the difference!

Moriyeta Masauko started living in Jimu Village (Malawi) at the age of 6. When she was 21 in 2011, Moriyeta was part of the crowds that witnessed triggering by Plan Malawi and Government Extension Workers in their village. This whole process triggered her into action and she volunteered to be a champion for promoting sanitation and hygiene in her village. She worked tirelessly with her fellow men, natural leaders, to promote and encourage change. Moriyeta explains: “I was very happy to see government officials finally come to our village to certify it as open defecation free (ODF)”. Moriyeta has benefited from the natural leaders’ training that was offered by Plan Malawi and she has managed to facilitate triggering in 5 villages.

In her village, Moriyeta continues her role as a natural leader to encourage everyone to uphold the good sanitation status. She appreciates the health benefits brought about by the CLTS project. Jimu village has become a model to other villages. They come to witness and learn from the good sanitation and hygienic practices. Moriyeta takes a lead in educating them. The ripple created by Jimu Village is slowly spreading to other villages and they are gaining ground to self-triggering and attaining ODF status.

 Abridged version of case study by Plan Malawi, Trigger 2012

Moriyeta demonstrating how handwashing is done (© Plan Malawi)

It is a natural process that women get involved in CLTS because they are usually the ones who collect the water, take care of the children, the sick and on the whole manage the household. They bear the impact of inadequate water and sanitation services. So in the triggering phase of CLTS they are among the first ones to understand the debilitating effects of open defecation and the benefits of Open Defecation Free (ODF) status.

Still women have to break through the traditional power dynamics between men and women, as there is a clear division in roles. Men dominate the planning and decision making around water and sanitation investments. Construction of latrines is considered a man’s job. They are the providers and hold the purse strings. In CLTS they see their role as supervisory, overseeing monitoring and hygiene and taking decisions. Hygiene and sanitation issues are considered the responsibility of women. They are usually staying at home and look after the family. They are not involved in decision-making processes and their views and wishes are often not addressed.

Example 2

Improved sanitation protects women's dignity

In some communities in the West of Niger women can only go to the toilet at night, whatever the emergency, so as to keep to their cultural traditions and preserve their privacy. They quickly defecate in an open area behind bushes, ensuring no roving eye is watching them.
In the customs of Zarma-Sonrai communities in Niger, seeing a woman naked is a big shame. The honour of a family unit revolves around the woman: as a mother, a wife, stepmother, and a big sister. Protecting a women's privacy, is a sacred affair. In Tillaberi, Plan Niger is striving to end this ordeal in the Bangnay Koira community located 38km West of Niger. After the triggering process, the community responded positively and expressed a sense of disgust and shame when they saw open defecation. Within a short time, there were latrines being built in the homes.
The main beneficiaries were women, who tend to be more active and responsible over the maintenance of the toilets. With the newly constructed latrines in their respective households, women no longer waited for dusk to relieve themselves.
Mariama was the first woman in the community to build a latrine. "Prior to the adoption of the approach "Te bon se'' (''do it for yourself'' – CLTS local name). With the technical support and guidance of Plan Niger's CLTS facilitators, we built ourselves latrines at an affordable rate. My dignity and that of many women has been restored through the sanitation project," Mariama said.

Abridged version of case study by Plan Niger, Trigger 2011

Mariama next to her latrine (© Plan Niger)

Example 3

Women as champions in improved village sanitation

Chanda is one of the villages in the Plan-supported community of Lwingishi in Zambia. The village has a total population of 434 people with 80 households. The village was among the dirtiest in the community and was prone to water and sanitation related sickness, especially diarrhoea. Chanda is one of the villages in the Plan-supported community of Lwingishi in Zambia. The village has a total population of 434 people with 80 households. The village was among the dirtiest in the community and was prone to water and sanitation related sickness, especially diarrhoea.

Before the CLTS project in 2010, the village only had 8 toilets out of the total number of 80 households. This posed a great danger to the community. Beatrice Chama, one of the Sanitation Action Group (SAG) members recalls, “We used to suffer a lot before CLTS was introduced in our village. Everyone including our children, suffered bouts of diarrhoea. We often wasted a lot of productive time as we were forced to walk 10 kilometres to the nearest Rural Health Centre (RHC) in Kansenga to get treatment. Little did we realize that the reason we were suffering was because of open defecation that was so rampant,” says Beatrice.

In 2010 after the village was triggered by Plan Zambia, a 9 man SAG was constituted to spearhead sanitation issues. The SAG comprising of 6 women and 3 men came up with an action plan where they agreed to be meeting 4 times in a month to conduct village inspections. From the time the village was triggered there was a huge health improvement and community members realized the value of hygiene and proper sanitation. To date, every household in Chanda has got a toilet and diarrhoea incidences have reduced.

Because of the benefits we have seen, we are now triggering neighbouring villages as well because we know that as long as they have open defecation, we are also affected,” says Naomi Namwawa, one of the SAG members. On the issue of sustainability of the programme, Beatrice Chama says, “We shall not stop these inspections and talking about sanitation because this is a matter of life and death and we don’t want to go back to open defecation”.

Abridged version of a case study by Plan Zambia, Trigger 2012

Beatrice in red top with two other committee members (© Plan Zambia)

The fact that women are staying at home has benefits for the CLTS process. They not only experience the benefits of ODF first hand, they are also better placed to check the practices of their neighbours and other community members. This way they can pressure people to stop open defecation and so take on the role of natural leaders. The skills of women improve substantially in the CLTS process as they can take on different roles in improving both their own and the community’s situation. Occasional trainings are offered to help them along.

CLTS has recognized the importance of women in creating sustainable sanitation and hygiene services. However, it is essential to take gender considerations on board in CLTS projects in order to avoid overburdening women. A conscious and systematic way of integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment as in the Pan-Africa programme gives better results. Over time men and women will be working, discussing and cooperating on CLTS at an equal level. This way, women can assert their rights and improve their social position, obtaining gender transformative results in the process.

Women, as is recognised in the Pan-Africa programme, should be openly valued for their contribution to a successful and sustainable CLTS process. That would be real progress in the battle for sustainable sanitation services for everyone forever.

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