Unlocking the power of women in Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS)

Date: 30th March 2017

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Harriet Beecher Stowe, 19th-century American author, is fondly remembered for stating that women are the real architects  of society. I decided to put this saying to test by conducting a self-sponsored micro-poll in the Kiplombe ward, part of the Turbo Sub County – one of the 11 sub counties covered by the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) –  with variable X denoted as number of men involving themselves with upholding and improving communal sanitation standards and variable Y representing the number of women passionate about matters sanitation and hygiene. The results? The latter undisputedly exceeded the 50+1 mark, proving the saying true!

Mr Michael Mitei and wife Lucia pose outside their newly constructed latrine, complete with a hand washing facility.

Mr Michael Mitei and wife Lucia pose outside their newly constructed latrine, complete with a hand washing facility. Credit: Daniel Karanja

This not only serves to reassure the world of the inherent role a woman plays in virtually every aspect of societal development, but also serves as a reminder that women ought to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

In Africa, for example, a woman’s bargaining power has been overshadowed, with many communities being patriarchal. However, wheels of societal expectations have been turning, though slowly, resulting in the emergence of women leaders with every passing day. Tikitio A, a village in the Kiplombe ward in Uasin Gishu – one of Kenya’s 47 counties– harbours one such woman, whose determination to change and make the world a better place has not been derailed by challenges arising due to her gender.

When she got married 49 years ago, Lucia Mitei anticipated a flawless marriage. Like any other newlywed, she knew there would be challenges, but she never would have imagined experiencing a latrine-induced problem. “My husband has been everything I have ever known,” she says smiling.  “Ever since we got married, he has never laid his hands on me. I, therefore, have had no reason to go to my parent’s home,  like most women who are in abusive marriages around this place do,” she discloses.

Lucia was away at a relative’s place at the time of CLTS triggering and therefore never attended her village (Tikitio A) triggering, but a household visit to her place was inevitable. During the follow-up visits by members of the Village Sanitation Committee (VSC), she was requested to demolish her latrine structure and construct a new one since her current structure posed injury and/or even death risks to users. The task in itself wasn’t easy. But to make matters worse, her husband, Michael Mitei, was not willing to tear down the structure. After all, why would he do so? Why now after all the years they had used it in the very same condition?

A strategy to induce change was important to ensure that her husband understood the necessity to build a new latrine. It didn’t take Lucia long to execute her plan. Almost immediately after the VSC visit, to compel him to tear down the old latrine and build a new one, she left. For the first time since she got married, she left her home, abandoned her husband, and went back to her parents place.

Seeing this, and wanting his wife back, Michael took one week to construct a new latrine. Their home was the first in the village after triggering to build an improved latrine that matched the standards of WHO.

Lucia Miteis’ story clearly shows that indeed, the power of women to shape and reshape a society is phenomenal and unmatched. Hats off to all women who stop at nothing to be authors of change everywhere around the world!

About the writer, WSSCC member Daniel Karanja

Daniel is a Monitoring and Evaluation Project Officer at Global Mission Services, one of  WSSCC sub-grantees charged with implementing the GSF Kenya Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Programme (K-SHIP) led by Amref Health Africa in Kenya.

Daniel supports documentation, sharing and learning (including identifying quality practices and taking photos and video) through editing human interest stories from other sub-grantees that are implementing K-SHIP, and posting these on the K-SHIP Real Time Learning Forum Facebook page. Daniel is also a Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Champion and is part of a sub-committee that offers insight to inform MHM indicators, policy documents and the training module.

Daniel Karanja

Daniel Karanja

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