What a day! UN partners WSSCC and OHCHR gather diverse stakeholders to foreground sanitation, rights and dignity for women


Grass-roots activists shared inspirational experiences on reducing female circumcision in Senegal, raising awareness of lesbian and transgender issues in Nepal and working for the dignity of sex workers in India at a special meeting at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva on Friday.

Ahead of International Women’s Day on Saturday 8th March, joint hosts the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) organized a one-day event on Inspiring Change to Promote Women’s Rights and Dignity.

“This meeting focused on the fundamental rights of women, to examine current policy and practice as well as challenges to women’s empowerment across their life cycle, looking at vulnerable groups through the lens of water, sanitation and hygiene,” said WSSCC Executive Director Chris Williams as he welcomed some 70 participants from health, sanitation and rights groups across the world.

In keeping with the 2014 International Women’s Day theme of ‘Inspiring Change’, representatives from India, Nepal and Senegal shared often very personal experiences of fighting for change and improving women’s rights in their home country. The experiences shared showed how human rights and access to water, sanitation and hygiene are inextricably linked.

“Women [in Nepal] are treated as second class citizens and among these women, lesbian and transgender women are considered even lower,” said Shyra Karki, a lesbian activist working for the lesbian and transgender community in Nepal.

As a result of this low-status, such women are extra vulnerable to health complications or are excluded from accessing basic sanitary facilities.

“Transgender women who dress as men,” said Karki, “they are embarrassed to go and buy sanitary napkins, they are embarrassed to go to the hospital if they are ill or to go to have gynecological check up.”

OHCHR and WSSCC hope that this jointly sponsored event will inspire the UN community, governments and business to take action to fulfill all women’s rights, including access to sanitation, water and hygiene.

“Water, sanitation and hygiene are internationally agreed human rights with attending obligations,” said Craig Mokhiber, Chief, Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch, OHCHR. “And as we have heard today, the obligations of meeting these rights are different with regard to women than regard to men.”

According to Mr Mokhiber, the right to water, sanitation and hygiene is “an enormous human rights challenge of the twenty first century that has yet to be met.”

WSSCC will prepare a summary report from the event for publication in the coming weeks. To receive a copy of the report, send an email to emily.deschaine@wsscc.org.