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Bringing a Focus to Women and Girls: Challenges and Contributions to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Creating Forums for Women to Participate Equally in Management & Decision-making (Asafo Pechi, Eastern Region)

Asafo Pechi is a small community tucked away in the forest in Ghana’s Eastern Region; Lucy Dei (“Aunty Lucy”) has lived here for 36 years. Like many women in her community, Lucy is a farmer who cultivates staple cash crops: cocoa, plantain, and cassava.

Aunty Lucy holds the role of Queen Mother, head of the women within the community and an assistant and advisor to the chief. When the women in the community have problems, they can go to Lucy. She either advises them herself, or takes the issue to the chief. Ultimately though, the final decision on all matters lies with the chief.

Because of their responsibilities, women are often most aware of the WASH-related challenges within a community. Lucy explained that although her community does have some existing latrines, the pits were not lined during construction. When it rains, the pit becomes water logged, causing feces to surface and exposing it to flies and animals. The alternatives to latrines are open pits, but these pose many dangers for children. A contributing danger to community health is the garbage dump, which is located next to the community borehole, putting the water source at a heightened risk for contamination.

Lucy is a principal advocate for improving sanitation and hygiene in her community. “I have even been beating the bell, the town crier, so that all the community members will come and clean up the community,” Aunty Lucy said in a conversation translated from Fante Twi. Unfortunately, her authority as Queen Mother is largely limited to that over women and children.

The Scope of Gender Roles in  Community WASH Issues

In rural households and communities, women and men often have distinct roles and responsibilities. Men oversee farming activities and make up the highest level of community leadership. Women play a central role in carrying out water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) tasks, such as fetching water. In decision-making, female leadership oversee women’s activities, while male leadership (including the chief, the head of the community) oversee male activities and also make final decisions concerning the community. These gender roles can limit women’s ability to fully participate in public decision-making. In addition, because of women’s responsibilities over WASH activities, they bear an undue burden when conditions are not adequately maintained.

Despite the fact that it is primarily women who are engaged in day-to-day WASH activities, men are customarily the decision makers on major issues such as construction and management. For example, women have a major stake in ensuring the borehole is clean and working properly, because they are the ones who fetch water from the borehole daily. If the borehole breaks down, women are still expected to fetch water, despite the challenges and dangers they may face, including walking the distance to find water and carrying it back to the household. It is critical that women actively participate in community WASH development; because of their stake, they often work very hard to ensure that facilities are maintained and proper hygiene practices are enforced.

“Triggering” Women’s Participation

The Ghana WASH Project recently began Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) activities in Aunty Lucy’s community. The first step is “triggering,” which involves discussion, education, and problem solving on sanitation (especially open defecation) issues in cooperation with a community. The goal of triggering is to bolster the community’s understanding of its own WASH problems and become motivated to participate in solutions. These activities are done in the format of a community meeting, where men and women are encouraged to participate in the discussion on equal footing. Children also participate.

As the Ghana WASH Project continues to engage the community of Asafo Pechi in WASH development, other avenues can be created for women to participate on an equal basis with men on these issues in their communities. One example is women’s involvement in water and sanitation (watsan) committees. The project works with the community to set up these committees, which are put in place to promote upkeep of facilities and proper hygiene behavior. The GWASH project makes every effort to ensure women are included in the watsan committees, including encouraging 30 percent female membership. Most importantly, the watsan committee works alongside the existing community leadership, demonstrating a respect for the existing community leadership, and respect for women’s essential role in WASH.

In order to sustainably improve WASH in communities like Asafo Pechi, project staff engage with women as equal partners in WASH activities. This can expand and cement women’s voice in community decision-making and management. The hope is that by the end of the intervention, the authority of Aunty Lucy and other women on WASH-related issues will be upheld by the entire community. The project has found that this can lead to improved management of facilities, and sustainable improvements for the community.

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