Barriers to access to water and sanitation can be physical – such as the lack of a toilet, or long distance to collect clean water, for instance. These are clear targets of RWSSP-WN and RVWRMP. But behavioural barriers are more difficult to overcome, and some types of domestic water-use behaviours change more easily than others. For instance, the use of human urine as a fertilizer has quite quickly been accepted, as the benefits for food production and income generation are experienced by everyone. (Haapala & White, 2015).
Ensuring access to clean water is easily understood as an important right for all, as it impacts everyone in the community. However, there are many needs for new or improved water schemes. In practice there is a tendency for the most confident and powerful households in the community to get their scheme prioritised, and more remote or disadvantaged groups to miss, out irrespective of real needs, if there hasn’t been a thorough process of community consultations (via the V-WASH plan or WUMP) and careful facilitation by outside arbitrators. This is where the Finnish bilateral WASH projects have been very successful.
Photo: Women in Water Users and Sanitation Committee (WUSC)
Many challenging issues remain, and in our recent Behaviour Change Workshops we focused on some of the most important, including:
Ensuring active participation in Committees by women and disadvantaged groups Information-sharing and participation in decision-making is a critical element of the right to water and sanitation. Government rules state that there must be at least 30% women in Water Users and Sanitation Committees (WUSCs). Project rules set the requirement at proportional representation of Disadvantaged Groups (DAG), such as Dalit and Janajati, and 50% women. At least one of the key leadership positions should be held by a woman. Women are commonly agreed to have the best knowledge of water issues, as they have the main responsibility for water collection.
Photo: Muslim women-only meeting
It appears that RWSSP-WN and RVWRMP committees are doing better than committees in non-project schemes. For instance, monitoring in Dadeldhura in RVWRMP in 12.2015 found that:
30% RVWRMP Water Users Committees had women in key positions, compared with 25% of non-RVWRMP schemes
There were 38% women as members of RVWRMP user committees, compared with 31% women as members in non-RVWRMP schemes
Currently in RWSSP-WN, there are 46% women in WUSCs but only 39% of WUSCs have women in top 3 leadership posts (usually treasurer – only 7% of Chairs are women). Women are often side-lined by more confident men - even in the Treasurer role, women report that men may take over their tasks. Their literacy or numeracy may be weak, or simply they lack power. It may also be problematic for women to travel outside of the VDC for procurement.
How can we ensure they really can be involved and not simply participating on paper? Some of the behavior change strategies include:
Confidence building workshops for women and DAGs, in order to encourage women and DAGS to volunteer and to build their confidence in their abilities.
Radio interviews with female WUSC chairpersons
Targeted messages – including pointing out that there is a female Speaker and Chief Justice in Nepal!
Leadership workshops for female WUSC members and leaders from different scheme
Photo: Women committing to use the toilet during menstruation (Chau)
Photo: Female Community Health Volunteers discussing reasons to use the toilet during menstruation (Chau)
Access to taps and toilets during menstruation Menstruation taboos are experienced throughout Nepal to varying degrees, ranging from the extremes of the chhaupadi hut practices in Far West, to women not being able to enter the kitchen during menstruation in elsewhere.
This is a particularly difficult issue for the projects to influence as they have most negative impacts on women (with few downsides for men) and are closely bound with religion and tradition. Older women and men, and traditional healers and religious leaders enforce these practices, while younger women usually lack power within the household to oppose them. In addition, many of the male project and district staff find it difficult to discuss with women, and the issue has remained hidden.
Community rules regarding tap use during menstruation vary, between village and caste. In some villages, women can touch the water source but not the tap; while in others it is the source that is considered holy, but the tap, as a man-made construction, is safe to touch. In some cases menstruating women can touch water outside the house but not inside.
Toilets are only recent in many project communities, but a new ‘tradition’ has been invented that is preventing many women from using the toilet during menstruation, even in ODF communities. This is mainly due to the need to touch the water container. In some households it is considered acceptable if the woman has a separate water container for washing, but in others it is felt that she will make the toilet ‘dirty’.
Consequently, she must continue to go for open defaecation, even though the community has been mobilised and publicly declared the importance of every person using the toilet at all times. Menstruating women have the right to use their own toilet and not have to face the discomfort and dangers of Open Defaecation A range of strategies are proposed by the project staff, including:
Targeted approaches for older women and men, and traditional healers (dhami)
SMS messages regarding the importance of using the toilet all the time
Using stencils to mark all tap stands constructed by the projects with the message – “Everyone has the right to use this tap and the responsibility to look after it”
Participatory video on menstruation (made in Darchula) to be shown in other districts
Women as Village Maintenance Workers This is a difficult behaviour to change as traditional gender role models mean that communities often assume that only men can take this job. However, women are capable to do the work, and are the most informed about water issues, as they are the first to know when there is a problem at the tap. In many communities there are few men present for much of the year. In addition, even after receiving training, men often leave the community for paid work elsewhere, leaving the community without a Village Maintenance Worker (VMW).
Both projects now have policies to train a woman and a man from each scheme as a VMW. However, barriers exist. VMW Training at present usually requires attendance outside of the VDC for a 10 day period - very difficult for women with family responsibilities. Within the household, husbands and parents-in-law may not allow the woman to take this role, or she herself may lack the confidence or time. In addition, project facilitators or VDC staff may not think that women are capable.
Photo: Women participating in Village Maintenance Workers' training
Behaviour change ideas have been discussed in the projects, including radio interviews and posters profiling successful female VMWs; and work with their families.
Following the behaviour change workshops to try to identify key drivers and target groups, we have prepared behaviour change action plans and tools. Now we need to test them in work with the most difficult issues inhibiting the right to water and sanitation in project areas.
Photo: There is always something new - exploring behaviour change in internal workshop
The writer has supported both RWSSP-WN and RVWRMP in GESI related issues. She is also the Home Office Coordinator for both projects.