Equality and Non-discrimination in focus at OHCHR-WSSCC session for International Women’s Day

Date: 14th March 2014

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Credit: WSSCC/Pierre Virot

Credit: WSSCC/Pierre Virot

For International Women’s Day, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will hold a high-level conference called ‘Inspiring Change to Promote Women’s Rights and Dignity’.

The conference takes place Friday, 7 March 2014, in the United Nations Palais in Geneva, Switzerland. Please note that the meeting is held in English only. On that day WSSCC and UNTV will also premier a new short film on menstrual hygiene management in India via its YouTube page.

By focusing on the fundamental human rights principles of Equality and Non-discrimination –important subjects in the Post-2015 development process – WSSCC and OHCHR will use this event to examine current policy and practice as well as challenges to women’s empowerment across their lifecycle, in diverse locations and contexts, and amongst marginalised communities (including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups). The issues discussed will be framed through the lens of women’s economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) with a special focus on water, sanitation and hygiene – especially menstrual hygiene.

Keynote speakers:
Jyoti Sanghera, Chief of Section on Human Rights and Social and Economic issues, OHCHR
Ms. Jyoti Sanghera and her team address some key and cutting edge issues such as Business and Human Rights, Climate Change, Migration, Poverty, the Right to food, Health, Water and other ESCR as well as issues related to the rights of those affected by disability, and the rights of older persons and children.

Chris Williams, Executive Director, WSSCC 
Dr. Chris Williams joined WSSCC in 2012 as its Executive Director. A trained economist and sociologist, Dr. Williams has 25 years of experience in international organizations, including 19 years in senior posts with UN-HABITAT. At WSSCC his priorities have been to consolidate and streamline the work of the organization, strengthen the delivery of programmes on the ground, and explore options for appropriate expansion.

Archana Patkar, Programme Manager, Networking and Knowledge Management, WSSCC
A native of Mumbai, India, Ms. Archana Patkar is a leading development specialist and sanitation, hygiene and water supply expert. Her particular areas of expertise include health, education, water and sanitation, and gender and women’s rights in rural and urban contexts. Ms. Patkar is helping steer WSSCC’s growth as a sector leader in topics such as equity and inclusion in sanitation and hygiene, menstrual hygiene management, and sanitation as a business.

Khalidou Sy, National Coordinator, Tostan, Senegal 
Mr. Khalidou Sy works with the non-governmental organisation Tostan and, in particular, works with the movement to abandon child/forced marriage and female genital cutting practices, which over 5,800 communities in Senegal have already abandoned. His extensive expertise in local Fulani and Toucouleur culture, as well as his continued commitment to social change and community-led development has been a staple in the development of Tostan’s human rights-based education programmes.

Shyra Karki, Human Rights Officer on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) issues, Nepal 
Ms. Shyra Karki is a Human Rights Officer for Mitini Nepal, focusing on strengthening and protecting the rights of sexual and gender minorities in Nepal. She advocates for these minority groups at both the community and the government level. She is a board member of the National Alliance of Women for Human Rights Defenders and a member of the European Union Working Group for the protection of human rights defenders.

Smarajit Jana, Sonagachi Project on sex workers rights, India 
Dr. Smarajit Jana is presently serving as principal of Sonagachi Research and Training Institute guiding research and capacity building programme. He was the architect of the most successful intervention programme among the sex workers in Kolkata, India known as the Sonagachi Project. He served as National Programme Advisor at NACO, Government of India, from 2007 to 2009, as a board member of Avahan program of B&MGF, as a member of the Regional Partnership Forum under UNAIDS & UNFPA. He is a member of the National AIDS Council, chaired by the Prime Minister of India.


  • International Women’s Day will be celebrated by millions of people all around the world. WSSCC and OHCHR are focusing on how the absence of equality for women and their discrimination has helped to maintain their exclusion in issues concerning water, sanitation and hygiene.
  • Globally, 2.5bn people have no access to a hygienic toilet. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable given that poor sanitation exposes females to the risk of assault, and when schools cannot provide clean, safe toilets, sanitary pads and changing rooms, girls’ attendance drops.
  • One of the taboos that stand in the way of women’s equality is lack of access to safe, hygienic and private menstruation. This lack of access has major societal consequences. In India, up to a quarter of girls drop out of school when they reach puberty, in part because schools lack private or gender-segregated toilets. In Africa it is estimated that within four years of high school, each girl loses 156 learning days, that’s one sixth of learning time. Women frequently miss work because they have no place to change the cloths they use. In Bangladesh, this amounts to six days of work each month, stifling productivity and advancement.

Schools are one of the best places to teach good hygiene and the presence of clean toilets separated for boys and girls is a big pull for school attendance. Educated girls tend to marry later and have fewer, healthier children. The resulting impact on economic growth means an investment in school sanitation brings long-term rewards.

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