By Benedicta Arthur
Intern, WSSCC Governance and Membership Unit
WSSCC member Daniel Iroegbu knew he found his passion for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) work when he was in Primary 5 and attended a Boy’s Bridge Camp in rural Nigeria. He was struck by the deplorable health conditions among women and children. Since then, Daniel has administered several Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and handwashing trainings in rural schools, organized workshops to dispel harmful cultural stereotypes and taboos surrounding menstruation, and published research on MHM. His latest engagement was at the 2018 International WASH Futures Conference in Brisbane, Australia, where WSSCC caught up with Daniel to share some thoughts on his experience at the conference and his work.
- Please tell us about how you founded the “Daniel Iroegbu Global Health Foundation”. As a gender advocate, I know the impact of inaccurate information, misconceptions, cultural restrictions, taboos and harmful practices on Menstrual Hygiene Management. Because of this, I knew that I had a responsibility to mobilize other males to support MHM and advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights. This passion led to the founding of the organization.
- What inspired you to get involved in MHM work? In Nigeria, menstruation is a very sensitive issue that is not publicly discussed, since it is associated with sexual impurity. In rural communities, many deeply-rooted cultural, religious and traditional taboos, restrictions and harmful practices surround menstruation. This negatively affects many school girls and rural women, since they have limited access to affordable and available hygienic sanitary materials to manage their menstruation. An example that comes to mind is that many rural and vulnerable girls hide their reusable sanitary cloths under the bed or inside the house to dry because of the shame that accompanies menstruation. This motivated my involvement in MHM.
- What challenges do you face as a man working on women’s issues? Trying to dispel long-held patriarchal perceptions surrounding menstruation by both men and women has been difficult to accomplish. This is because when it comes to gender issues, the majority of men don’t feel the impact of gender discrimination. I am optimistic though, because I have gained more support than criticism in my work, which is indicative of the changing perceptions on equality and discrimination in Nigeria.
- How did you get involved in the WASH Futures Conference? I was asked to present on one of my published papers on Menstrual Hygiene Management entitled: “Menstrual Hygiene Management in Nigeria: Strategyfor Multi-Sectoral Collaboration.” I would like to acknowledge the Australia Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) for my sponsorship as a delegate to the conference by the nomination of the Australian High Commission Abuja Nigeria.
- What was the highlight of your participation in WASH Futures Conference? The main highlight of the WASH Futures conference was the theme of collaboration for universal WASH coverage, that is, involving the women, men, disabled and vulnerable groups to accelerate and promote WASH with equity and non-discrimination. During the conference, many presentations and workshops addressed this theme – some examples being: City wide inclusive sanitation: going to scale and leaving no one behind on faecal sludge management; How collaboration can take us to scale; Resilient sanitation services in the cities of the future and fostering behavioural change through proactive political will; and Engagement and community approaches to sanitation through Information, Education and Communication (IEC) campaigns. I was also able to learn from other professionals in the WASH sector, who shared good practices and ideas for collaboration.
- What were some important take-aways from the conference? Firstly, I learned about the collaborative approaches used by various implementing partners and organizations in WASH financing and enterprises. It was relevant as we are starting off our reusable sanitary production in Nigeria. It was also interesting learning about the Indian government’s effective and efficient Open Defecation Free (ODF) policy, which was attributed to political will of the policy makers.
- Did the conference challenge previous perceptions you had related to the WASH sector? Yes. The conference challenged the perception that women do not have the required knowledge about WASH to participate in WASH decision making and income generating activities. The pilot intervention programmes presented at the conference indicated the rate at which women were occupying influential roles in their community WASH programmes and contributing towards community WASH governance.
- How will you incorporate things you learned at the conference into your organization’s work moving forward? I hope to use a multidisciplinary approach to meet the menstrual hygiene and WASH needs of women and children. I also hope to improve my evidenced-based approach to engage in policy, improve WASH in the rural communities, mentor colleagues and help improve Nigeria and similar African nations WASH sector.