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

Women Mobilize Their Communities for Household Latrine Construction (Abensu, Greater Accra Region)

In the community of Abensu, located in the Greater Accra Region, women have been at the forefront of addressing sanitation issues by mobilizing their community to work with the Ghana WASH Project to build household latrines.

Juliana Okine is one such example. Popularly referred to around the community as “Aunty Juliana,” she is a food vendor and wife to the community chief’s assistant, and she played a central role in helping her community get household latrines through the Ghana WASH Project.

In a conversation translated from Ga, Aunty Juliana said that she first learned about the initiative when staff from the Ghana WASH Project visited her community to talk about working with households to build latrines.  She was happy, she said, because she didn’t have a latrine for her family.

Before, the closest facility was the public latrine, located at the edge of the community. It could be an uncomfortable experience, especially for women, she said. For example, on approach, one would have to shout to alert the current user and verify whether it was a man or a woman. When someone approached the latrine but the current user was of the opposite sex, custom requires that the person wait until the user finished. So Aunty Juliana made up her mind to ensure her community received the latrines, no matter what it took.

In each community, the Ghana WASH Project aims to work with households to construct a minimum number of latrines. In Abensu, a community commitment of at least 20 households was required, but at first only 15 households expressed interest. Working with her husband and Aunty B, another prominent woman in the community, Aunty Juliana went to each and every household. The group visited and informed families of the plan, and they strongly encouraged them to participate. In the end, they finally reached the goal of 20 households. Even then, Aunty Juliana said that much of the community didn’t take the idea seriously. But once the latrines artisans arrived and began constructing latrines, they realized the initiative was a serious one.

In order to receive a latrine, each household had to commit contributions to latrine construction, from providing their own labor, digging the pits, collecting rocks, sand and other materials, to providing daily meals for the latrine artisans who  build the latrines. For her own household, Aunty Juliana Okine worked with her husband to collect heavy rocks, which they crushed into smaller stones, and she fed the artisans who worked on the household latrines.

At first, she said she began just cooking for the two artisans who were constructing her household’s latrine. Soon, others joined. Other households weren’t feeding the artisans well, she said. At times, a family would provide local food to the artisan, but because it was foreign to him, he refused to eat. Aunty Juliana said that her role in feeding the eight artisans was a somewhat easy task to take on. As a food vendor, she was used to cooking meals for a large number of people at a time, and that because she cooked so much, she always have food left over. It was a small price to pay to have this assistance in building the latrines, she said.

Aunty Juliana’s household latrine, completed in October 2011, was the first finished in the community. Not only did the her family serve as an example to other community members, but they also shared their leftover materials, such as the stones, with other households.

Today, Aunty Juliana and her household enjoy not only a latrine, but an additional toilet that they constructed. One side has a pit latrine and the other side has a toilet seat for those who are unable to squat. She said that having their own household latrine has made a world of a difference, and she even brought in her elderly mother to stay with her.

Aunty Juliana said that another woman, Beatrice Tetteh (called “Aunty B” in the community), likewise made important contributions for the household latrines. “Aunty B was in charge of two households’ construction when they weren’t around,” she said. “She saw to it that everything was done.” In addition, Aunty B also shared her leftover materials to support other households in their construction.

When asked why she hadn’t just built her own latrine instead of trying to mobilize the entire community, Aunty Juliana said she knew that if her was the only household in the community with a latrine, that it would become a “public toilet” – people from all over would come to use it. So she had to encourage households to work with the Ghana WASH Project to build their own.

Even with her own latrine, and the success of motivating 19 other households to get latrines, Aunty Juliana hasn’t stopped working. In fact, she and her husband have lobbied and worked with more community members to commit to getting household latrines, and the Ghana WASH Project will provide 15 more latrines in a next wave of construction.

By providing certain materials for latrine construction, the Ghana WASH Project presents these households with an opportunity that otherwise would likely be impossible. According to Evelyn Cofie, a Field Officer for the Ghana WASH Project for the Greater Accra, Volta and Eastern regions, the household contributions for these latrines are also significant. “What they are contributing is so much,” she said.  At the same time, her conversations with community members have reinforced that the project support is key. She recalled a conversation she’d had with Aunty B, asking her why she hadn’t just constructed her own latrine. “It’s expensive,” she was told. “We couldn’t have done it on our own.”

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