Leave No One Behind: Voices of women in Afghanistan

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Editor’s Note: For the last month, the Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA), WaterAid and WSSCC have facilitated national level consultation meetings with marginalized communities to identify key issues and messages to be represented at SACOSAN, the South Asian Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene, which takes place 10-14 April 2018 in Islamabad, Pakistan. This blog provides insights on the consultation in Afghanistan.


By Aziz Rafiee
Executive Director, Afghan Civil Society Forum-organisation (ACSFo); Convenor FANSA Afghanistan

Despite the huge national and international support in the past two decades, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) remains one of the challenging development and humanitarian issues in Afghanistan. In the last two years, Afghanistan has developed the National Water Policy, achieved 38% progress in sanitation on educational institutions, increased access to water and sanitation in remote areas, and reduced open defecation through toilet construction. Joint effort between the concerned ministries and the CSOs have also produce a huge behavior changes in the use of facilities as well as citizens trust towards the SDGs’ targets.  However, access to safe WASH is still is a distant dream for women, girls and people with disability in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Civil Society Forum-organization (ACSFo) organized a national consultation meeting with women, civil society representatives and members of community based organizations on 27 March 2018, in Kabul.  Participants were invited from Kabul, Nangarhar, Badakhshan, Takhar, Logar, Kunduz, Ghazni and Bamyan. The consultation was aimed to understand the challenges that women face in their daily lives in accessing sanitation and hygiene services. The meeting was the first step in bringing the voices of women to SACOSAN VII in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 11-13 April 2018.

The participants shared that in urban areas, the public toilets are not hygienic. There is no sewerage or proper drainage system except in a few residential areas and universities. In some of the residential areas the septic tanks and sewage system do not exist.  In some cases, the toilets are connected with septic tanks where water is available but often they over flow and there are no systems for sludge removal. In most areas of the cities, households have dry raised vault or pit latrines. The collection and transportation of excreta to agricultural lands is a challenge.

The sanitation facilities for adolescent girls and women in public places are very poor or non-existent. In educational institutions, especially private universities housed in rented buildings, the situation is particularly bad. These institutions have a limited number of latrines and their maintenance is pathetic. One parent attending the consultation meeting said that “there is only one toilet shared between 1,000 students in the college her daughter is attending, without facilities of sufficient water supply and availability of soap.  Often I feel very sad for the children in school as some of them have to control the bladder for longer hours waiting in the que for their chance to access the toilet.”

Many women in the meeting agreed that a lack of access to clean and safe toilets in educational institutions and public areas is creating a major challenge for school attendance and mobility. In remote areas, the lack of toilets and privacy during menstruation is still a cause for adolescent girls drop out from schools. The Ministry of Education (MoE) calculates a 35 percent dropout rate after the primary level. While discussing on the challenges of Menstrual Hygiene Management, one of the mothers said, “It is a nightmare – there is difficulty in procuring safe and affordable sanitary products, a lack of appropriate information coupled by culture of silence around the issue which forces us into harmful practices and makes us more vulnerable to health problems like white discharge and urinary tract infections.”

The stories of women with disabilities were even more painful. “We cannot access the toilet facilities in the schools, health clinics, government departments, public areas and highways, and often we have to wait for the support of someone else to fulfill our basic needs, which often makes us feel helpless and affects our self-confidence and self-respect”. Despite repeated applications, no standards are being practiced to improve and construct suitable facilities for people with disabilities.

Despite the challenges above, the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing have been able to build up facilities in some of the areas and push the policies in support of the WASH sector. The improvement in access to safe water, standardizing the newly built facilities both at government and private levels, are promising. The open defecation problem with assistance of MRRD and WSG have been addressed in a promising manner. The MoE has also announced its full support on the inclusion of WASH messages into the new school curricula.