For over a century, March 8 has been set aside as International Women’s Day to celebrate and advocate for women’s rights and equality around the world.
In commemorating the event this year, Toilet Kulture Initiative (TKI) celebrates ‘the woman’ globally, who in different spheres and settings has contributed to the world, to change. To every woman who chose to challenge, walk the paths hitherto only imagined and have broken the invisible glass ceiling, we celebrate you.
As we celebrate women all over the world on this day, we are pleased to beam our spotlight on a woman who is a leader in the true sense of it; she clearly qualifies the word ‘Response-Ability’. She is the Chairman of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committee (WASHCOM) in Jani ward, Mani Local Government Area (LGA) of Kastina state, Nigeria.
The WASHCOM is set up by the people in communities after being triggered on Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), when they are exposed to the health hazards associated with the practice of open defecation and facilitated to decide for themselves on how to totally stop the practice within their various communities. The WASHCOM is usually formed and trained in communities that have been triggered on CLTS in order to drive the achievement of Open Defecation Free (ODF) and its sustenance in the communities. This is an integral part of the structure at the community level for the campaign for the SHAWN programme by UNICEF and Federal Government of Nigeria to end Open Defecation in Nigeria by 2025.
The WASHCOMs consist of 10 to 12 member with at least 40% female representation. The position of the chairperson is often occupied by men; this is influenced by both social and cultural stereotypes. Thus, TKI found it outstanding to see a woman actively leading and coordinating the activities of the WASHCOM.
Excerpts from the interview.
Can we meet you ma’am?
My name is Zara Anas
Give us a little background of yourself?
I am an indigene of Niger Republic. My father’s name is Alhaji Bukari Chinbusu a business man. I attended primary school in Niger but was only able to complete year 2 in Junior Secondary School before my father withdrew me for marriage in Nigeria. I have 5(five) children, 2(two) males, 3 (three) females. I am a business woman and also a house wife.
How did you become the WASHCOM Chairperson in your community?
The community members choose me to be a member and also a chairman of WASHCOM due to my commitment to health related issues as a local midwife in the community.
What gave you the courage to step up as the WASHCOM Chair?
I took the position because I realized that the people in the community were ignorant on health matters and some household heads did not allow their wives to visit the health facilities due to ignorance and cultural taboos.
How did members of your community live before the intervention?
Before now, the community members were not adequately sensitized and knowledgeable about health related activities and also there were open defecation sites everywhere in the community and no latrines in some households. Also, most of the women were reluctant to visit the healthcare centers when they were ill or even for antenatal, I took it upon myself to take the to the hospitals to see a physician
Are there noticeable improvements in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene in your community now since the intervention?
Yes, I have seen changes in our community. All the households now have latrines with drop hole covers. All the defecation sites are now cleared out. Household heads now allow their wives to visit the health care centers when the need arises
Can you tell us about the activities of the WASHCOM in your area?
We embark on house to house mobilization, creating awareness on sanitation and hygiene, making sure people do not return to open defecation sites. We also hold monthly meeting to discuss WASH issues and the sustenance of improved health status and house to house inspection and so on.
How has these activities impacted the lives of your community members?
The programme has really helped in reducing many of the diseases that plagued the community. Some of the diseases include diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, and malaria.
As the Chairperson of WASHCOM, what are the challenges you face?
Before now, there was the challenge of lack of cooperation from some community members as some of them felt they were not being paid for the work, sometimes I will have to use my money to repair dilapidated toilets in some households. However, the participation is better because everyone has seen the improvement in the health and livelihood of the people in the community.
What strategies do you use to monitor the activities of your community members?
I and other members of the WASHCOM visit all the households for follow up and we re-sensitize them to sustain the behavior change.
How do you intend to sustain the successes achieved so far?
We intend to continue with our monthly meetings, follow ups and monitoring, and continued mobilization.
What are your long term goals for the community as the WASHCOM Chairperson?
My goal is to see the community achieve its sanitation and hygiene goals and become completely open defecation free, to see the health of women improve greatly through regular visitation to the healthcare centers as they are established to make our lives better and beyond the WASHCOM. For now, I am planning to organize a women’s group in my community. I have started so I need government’s assistance and that of the development partners and other NGOs. There is lack of classrooms in our primary school and also the need for a model health facility in our community.
What message do you have for the community members and especially women?
The message I want pass to the community is to cooperate and accept whatever government and NGOs provide in our community. I also call on all women within my community and the entire Katsina state to support this program as they play an important role in sustaining this programme for the good of our families.
What message do you have for the government and the development partners that brought this intervention to your community?
My message to government and development partners is to continue providing health related support to improve the lives of our people. I also call on the government to provide us with portable water as we cannot achieve and sustain our sanitation goals without clean water.
Isa Hussaini Mani.
Vector Control Officer
Mani LGA WASH Department,
Katsina State – Nigeria.