May 27, 2015
“Rights must inform policies and political discourse, not the other way around.” This quote, from a session on sustainability in sanitation sums up a key sentiment that I heard refrained again and again on Tuesday. If the common thread on Monday at AfricaSan was equality, Tuesday was about dignity.
We’ve written previously about the need for better WASH facilities in healthcare centers. This topic was delved into further on Tuesday with a session exploring the impact of WASH on maternal and newborn health. They found, for example, that in Tanzania less than a third of women gave birth in a WASH-safe environment, whether in home or in a healthcare facility.
Dignity also means ensuring that we take into account the local context. One of the hallmarks of community-led total sanitation (CLTS), for example, is that it engages with local communities developing ownership. This, in turn, has the potential to create agency and community-level empowerment. These positive externalities can also be realized through engaging with stakeholders in a collaborative way around handwashing program implementation. In the Fit for Schools Program in the Philippines, for example, parent groups were engaged in the development of group handwashing stations at schools.
Finally, for handwashing dignity means not only making sure that the poorest have access to handwashing stations, but that vulnerable populations, such as the disabled, the stigmatized, and minorities have access as well. As we lead up to Menstrual Hygiene Day on Thursday, I am reminded of the importance of handwashing stations in schools to help girls and female teachers manage their periods with safety and dignity.
Hygiene oftentimes is implicitly included in the human rights language for water and sanitation. And oftentimes menstrual hygiene management is mentioned as an area to prioritize dignity, but let’s not forget that handwashing with soap is also an opportunity to lessen social inequalities and foster not only better health and equality, but also dignity. Implicit is not enough. To achieve dignity we need to explicitly raise a hand for hygiene.
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