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Women Leaders Target Need for Sanitation and Hygiene

  • Kim Lewis

Over 50 female leaders from around the world recently published a declaration calling for the end of poor sanitation and hygiene in the developing world. Among those leaders are the first ladies of Madagascar and Malawi, both of whom announced the declaration in Washington, D.C.

The United Nations’ Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council, (WSSCC), paved the way for the declaration. Worldwide they said 2.5 billion people currently live without access to improved sanitation. In Africa alone, 340 million Africans still lack clean drinking water and 547 million lack access to basic sanitation.

The water and sanitation declaration by women who are global leaders focuses on water and sanitation, said Chris Williams, WSSCC executive director. The target is to challenge developing nations to address the lack of water and sanitation.

“It’s a major challenge,” he said. “It’s one of the least met MDG’s or Millennium Development Goals.”

The declaration was spearheaded by the Global Poverty Project, an initiative that brought together a number of other organizations such as the WSSCC, The World Bank, and UNICEF with finance ministers and first ladies from around the world. The goal was to boost political support and raise the level of the issue of obtaining clean water.

For example, the First Lady of Malawi, Gertrude Mutharika, organized an initiative called Beautify Malawi that focuses on empowering women and girls by educating them on waste management and hygiene. Williams said this initiative builds on already existing sanitation and hygiene initiatives in Malawi.

“So what she’s doing with this global declaration is just bringing to a global level what she’s doing at the national level,” he said.

In Madagascar, President Rajaonarimampianina and First Lady Lalao Rajaonarimampianina launched a campaign that focuses on ending the practice of open defecation by the year 2019.

Williams said the main challenges with sanitation and hygiene campaigns are that the shift has changed from building facilities to changing people’s behavior.

“So, infrastructure traditionally was how people solved problems of water and sanitation--tried to build facilities, to provide subsidies, undertake contracting procedures to go into rural villages and very urban areas and create sanitation facilities for people,” William said. “This has proved over the last ten years to be very ineffective because the purpose for uses of sanitation facilities — the maintenance of them, the good hygiene practices associated with them— were not associated with the infrastructure.”.

There has been a change from an infrastructure approach to sensitizing communities to the importance of changing their behavior towards hygiene and sanitation.

“Over 30 countries in the world have signed up to this approach. One of the terms that is used in methodologies is ‘community-led total sanitation, CLTS’, and this is an approach where village by village an entire country can be transformed to bring about positive changes in hygiene behavior which ensures greater toilet use as well as maintenance,” Williams emphasized.