This post originally appeared on African Development Jobs‘ website. Reprinted with permission.
In the Mkuranga District outside of Dar es Salaam, maternal deaths have dropped to zero, which is unheard of in Tanzania. At 578 per 100,000 deaths, the national maternal mortality rate is quite high. The African Medical and Research Foundation worked with the community to ensure every mother and her family had safe water to drink. Side by side with men and women, they established a Water Committee to address the operations, maintenance, and sustainability of their water point. The female Committee members beamed as they told me they are here and surviving because of these efforts.
In Africa and across the developing world, it is common for women and girls to spend up to six hours daily collecting water, time they could spend in school or working. The result is perpetuated cycles of gender inequality and poverty. When latrines are not available in the house, women will defecate outdoors under the cover of darkness at night, exposing them to harassment and sexual assault. In addition, lack of single-sex sanitation facilities in schools results in low levels of attendance among girls, particularly during menstruation. Clean water is key to the health and well-being of a community.
Though women and girls are disproportionately impacted by water and sanitation, they are a critical part of the solution. Globally, the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) crisis has left 768 million without access to safe water and 2.5 billion without adequate sanitation. Women are stepping up and taking a leading role across Africa to change this. In honor of World Toilet Day on November 19 – recognized by the United Nations for the first time this year – we celebrate eight bold and inspiring African women making an impact in their communities, nations, and the continent.
We applaud the efforts of Heads of State Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (President of Liberia) and Joyce Banda (President of Malawi). Nobel Peace Prize winner Sirleaf expanded efforts to bring WASH to Liberia and is the new Honorary President of Water and Sanitation for Africa. The “most powerful woman in politics” according to Forbes magazine, Banda’s national initiative on maternal health includes comprehensive WASH in maternal waiting shelters where women lodge until delivery. We hope other Heads of State will follow their lead.
Women are also addressing WASH through roles in national and local government as well. Maria Mutagamba has an impressive WASH resume including her six years as the Minister of Water and Environment in Uganda and her current co-leadership of Women Leaders for WASH. Diana Kigumba works for Kenya’s Department of Education. Passionate about the health and well-being of children in her district, she works in coordination with other Ministry officials to ensure WASH is a priority in their district schools.
Women like Catherine Mwango and Ebele Okeke are making great strides advocating and building political will for WASH. Mwango expanded her work by bringing sustainable WASH to Kenya and other African nations through her current role as Vice Chair of the influential African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation. A founding member of the United Nation’s Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council and their Ambassador for Nigeria, Okeke believes that women’s leadership in WASH is essential for advocacy at community, national, and global levels.
Women also have tremendous impact working through non-governmental organizations. In Africa, Ada Oko-Williams believes WASH is a key part of Africa’s development agenda. Through her work with the Sustainable and Thriving Environments for West Africa Regional Development, she has trained more than 350 sanitation workers in West Africa and reached over 600,000 people in the last five years alone. Rose Wamalwa is one of a select group of Global Women’s Water Initiative Fellows, a program designed to boost women’s leadership as WASH facilitators and trainers. The experience led her to start her own group – Women in Water and Natural Resource Conservation – to train grassroots women in Kenya.
These are just eight of many amazing women leaders bringing WASH to their nations and communities across Africa. Think about all of the African women leaders you know and honor them this World Toilet Day by sharing their stories and accomplishments.
Rebecca Fishman is Operations & Special Projects Director for WASH Advocates and focuses on the importance of WASH to the health, education, empowerment, and safety of women and girls.