Achieving Gender Equality through WASH

Date: 26th April 2016

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Highlights from the side event at the 60th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York

In March 2016 during the 60th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, WSSCC and the Permanent Mission of Senegal to the United Nations in New York co-hosted an event on “Achieving Gender Equality through WASH.”  The event examined the role of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in women’s empowerment and sustainable development, as well as the role of governments in strengthening national mechanisms and prioritizing gender through a human rights approach.

The side event brought together a wide range of international stakeholders concerned with gender equality and WASH.  Attended by some 60 participants, the discussion drew attention to emerging issues and highlighted new evidence that is helping to build momentum and support for change in this critical area for sustainable development. There were a number of high-level speakers from different ministries in national governments, NGOs, international organizations and the private sector, all of whom provided examples of progress and challenges for WASH and gender equality in several countries including Cameroon, Finland, Nepal, Niger, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Zambia. The notable speakers included:

  • Gorgui Ciss, Deputy Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Senegal to the United Nations in New York
  • His Excellency Amrith Rohan Perera, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York
  • Her Excellency Anne Lamilla, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and Gender Equality, Finland
  • Carolina Wennerholm, Lead Policy Specialist Gender Equality, Swedish Cooperation Agency Sida
  • Inga Winkler, Independent Expert on Human Rights
  • Liesl Gerntholtz, Human Rights Watch
  • Miki Agrawal, THINX
  • Cecile Shrestha, Associate Director of Programme Development, WaterAid
  • Mbarou Gassama Mbaye, Programme Coordinator, UN Women
  • Archana Patkar, Programme Manager, WSSCC
  • Ramatoulaye Dieng, Secretary General, Ministry of Environment, Senegal
  • Absa Wade, Director of Gender, Ministry of Gender, Senegal
  • Sarah Fry, Senior Hygiene Programme Advisor, USAID
Credit: WSSCC/UN Women
Credit: WSSCC/UN Women
Credit: WSSCC/UN Women
Credit: WSSCC/UN Women
Credit: WSSCC/UN Women
Credit: WSSCC/UN Women
Credit: WSSCC/UN Women
Credit: WSSCC/UN Women

His Excellency Deputy-Ambassador Ciss from Senegal delivered the opening speech and welcomed participants to the meeting, noting that Senegal met the water target during the MDG period, but not the sanitation target.  In Senegal, women and girls make up more than half of the population. Recent studies show that the lack of sanitation has a negative impact on their education, participation and livelihoods. Deputy Ambassador Ciss explained how Senegal is a strong advocate for the SDGs and how they address the interconnectivity of development issues.  The Government has decided to make sanitation a priority, working in a collaborative manner with other sectors.

Ambassador Perera, the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York delivered a keynote, saying that “Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in South Asia that achieved both the water and sanitation targets in the MDG period.” However, groups and communities with limited access to sanitation and hygiene remain, namely fishing communities, tea plantation workers and people living in some remote areas.

“Sri Lanka focuses on the needs of women and girls and vulnerable populations, in line with the SDGs, including school sanitation, menstrual hygiene for girls and women and safe and dignified conditions for sanitation workers,” said Perera.

Archana Patkar of WSSCC highlighted the role of evaluation indicators in measuring generational change, saying “household surveys are no longer sufficient to monitor progress and achievements. New methods need to be developed with support from feminist evaluators. There is a need for further information, education, and transparency. Evaluation needs to inform policy and make these linkages.”

The discussion centred on integrating human rights into WASH practices and ensuring that all services and facilities are inclusive and used by everyone. All members of society, including women and girls, should be able to participate in the design, implementation of and monitoring of policies and services to ensure that they correspond to local needs, are gender responsive and culturally acceptable.

The event also focused on the poorest, most marginalized and underserved in order to eliminate inequalities in access and use. This implies that special attention be paid to women’s and girls’ needs in the next generation of sanitation programmes, including enabling their voices to be heard. Addressing this issue, Anne Lammila, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and Gender Equality for Finland, said that “problems in access to water, sanitation and hygiene hit women and girls the most. Less time on fetching water frees women for productive work, which will benefit whole communities and societies to develop and prosper.”

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women is a body established in 1946 to monitor the situation of women and to promote women’s rights. The Commission’s work has been instrumental in bringing to light all the areas in which women are denied equality with men. These efforts for the advancement of women have resulted in several declarations and conventions, of which the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is central and the most comprehensive.

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