Translating rights to reality: WSSCC partners discuss relevance of rights to water and sanitation into practice

  • The two-hour session included interventions from WSSCC, WaterAid, WASH United and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • The discussion uncovered barriers to and solutions for successful implementation of human rights to water and sanitation at the national, sub-national and local levels
  • A live recording of the session is available on WSSCC’s Facebook page here

A discussion co-hosted by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), WaterAid and WASH United uncovered questions on framing the human rights to water and sanitation to a successful implementation for local actors.

The two-hour session on December 7, “Translating Rights to Reality: The human rights to water and sanitation as a powerful tool for local government,” at the International Committee of the Red Cross Museum in Geneva, was broadcast live on WSSCC’s Facebook page. Click here to access it

Speakers were:

  • Madoka Saji, Human Rights Officer, Special Procedures Branch, at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • Hannah Neumeyer, Head of Human Rights, WASH United
  • Louisa Gosling, Programme Manager, Principles, WaterAid
  • Archana Patkar, Head of Policy, WSSCC

In her keynote address, Ms. Saji gave participants an overview on equality affordability, participation and accountability among other relevant themes to the discussion of the human rights to water and sanitation tackled by her office and by Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation Mr. Léo Heller.

Ms. Saji also added that part of OHCHR’s mandate is to develop a normative context of human rights to water and sanitation to clarify what they mean and set a relevant framework for practitioners and states.

“We work to mainstream human rights in water and sanitation goals and targets,” she said.

Carrying on the theme of relevance and the practicality of the human rights to sanitation, Ms. Neumeyer, Head of Human Rights at WASH United, presented the organization’s efforts since 2016 to frame the rights theme in water and sanitation and make it relevant to local actors.

With partners, they created a typology of local government officials, to see who are the 'would-be-heroes' in the effort.

“All too often the human rights to water and sanitation are discussed in the national policy sphere, but the local governments are the ones who struggle with local budgets, challenges and political interference,” said Ms. Neumeyer.

Speaking on the challenges, Ms. Gosling from WaterAid  said that that there were many misconceptions about human rights, including for water and sanitation such as that governments are often expected to automatically and quickly provide them.

She also added that the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector is often dominated by those suggesting technical fixes.

“With that mindset, there can be a discomfort around issues like human rights,” she said, adding that the solution for making rights into reality is integrating WASH and human rights with issues like health, nutrition and education.

The Head of Policy at WSSCC, Ms. Patkar, warned the audience of the sector’s risk of perpetuating inequalities if a purely instrumentalist approach on the distribution of WASH services was used.

“It does not really transform the lived realities of stigma and discrimination,” she said adding that in the translation of WASH and human rights, we should not 'end' with WASH, we should 'start' with it.

A lively discussion with participants from various UN entities and NGOs followed the panel of presentations with a consensus on the idea that Human Rights are interconnected, inalienable and universal and well beyond technical fixes.

To access the documents mentioned during the session, click on these following links: