Water, sanitation and hygiene issues are particularly important to girls as they often must stay home from school during their menstrual period and are expose to violence if they practice open defecation. Women are vulnerable to harassment or assault when they travel long distances to fetch water, use shared toilets, or have to defecate in the open. Women and girls often wait until nightfall, which increases the risk of assault. The availability of water and sanitation facilities increases privacy and reduces risk of sexual harassment/assault while gathering water. Women play a key role in sustainable solutions to water and sanitation problems locally and globally. Therefore, WASH projects with positive financial benefits for women will contribute to community development. Women’s full participation in water and sanitation projects is strongly correlated with increased effectiveness and sustainability of these projects. I have the privilege of working with Nishtha, an local rights-based non-governmental organization, that empowers women to take part in water and sanitation advocacy and human rights training. As a strong community-based organization or water management and gender equality, Nishtha can improve social capital of women by giving them leadership and networking opportunities and building solidarity. Over 75% of their staff are women and from the remote rural villages. I have also worked with Sabuj Sangha, non-profit non-government development organization dedicated itself improving the lives of less fortunate people in West Bengal through participation and empowerment. Both organizations have nee working towards the advancement and empowerment of women especially in the WASH area.
While meeting with school administrators in a rural school in West Bengal to build better sustainable hand washing facilities and sanitation facilities and proper water supply , one of the administrators asked me “what is your qualification”. He was trying to understand his other question, “Why are you here?”. I said that my family is from an impoverished village like this in Nigeria. The community faces the same school WASH issues. This is my third time working with local NGOs and communities in India. I have two master’s degree in public health and environmental studies. I’m starting an applied PhD in Demography next month. I’m not an expert in global WASH issues but have been learning and growing. I’m a student who cares about people from different backgrounds. I never name drop where I went to school. I never want to be the person who’s only justification to be somewhere is based on where they went to school and not by their own merits.
He questioned why this Black woman traveled all this way to sit in a room filled with Indian men to talk about addressing waterborne disease in their school. This is why I’m getting a PhD. I never asked anyone about their qualifications to be in a certain space. but I appreciate his curiosity and candor. Women especially women of color need to be in included on matters that affect our communities that we live, work and serve.