From water to women: how an initial focus on SDG6 became intertwined with SDG5


Kumar Bhattarai is a local Young Expert working in Nepal. Through Simavi, he works for SEBAC-Nepal in the Dopper funded ‘ASHA’ programme, which stands for ‘Access to Sanitation and Hygiene for All’,.Within the programme, all stakeholders are involved in enhancing access to safe drinking water, improving the local sanitation status and hygiene behaviour. Besides that, the programme has started to focus on empowering local women and working with socially excluded groups. In this article Kumar will explain, together with his Simavi mentor Selma Hilgersom, how throughout his work on SDG6 (‘water and sanitation for all’) a focus on SDG5 (‘gender equality’) originated.

“The two districts I am working in, were severely affected by the massive earthquake in 2015. More than 80% of the water supply systems and almost all toilets in the area were damaged, resulting in widespread hardship and challenging conditions for public health and socio-economic development. As women are often responsible for the retrieval of water , they were mostly affected by the impact of the earthquake. Now, thanks to the work done by the ASHA programme, the “one house, one tap” modality has been achieved and people in more than 50 communities now have access to water at a household level. This especially improved the lives of women in the communities, as they have more time to focus on social activities andextra income-generating activities. Schools in the communities now also have access to water, and activities to break the taboo on menstruation also allowed girls better menstrual hygiene management, and as a result more freedom to participate in schooling and daily activities.”

Selma, has supported Kumar from the start of his Young Expert experience and has also witnessed the shift towards more focus on SDG5. “In Simavi, all activities start from the challenges and needs of women and girls. SEBAC-Nepal adopted Simavi’s women-centred and right-based approach as key working approaches in all programmes. However, it is always a learning journey to ensure that women and girls are meaningfully involved in every part of a programme and what works best in the local context. We had discussions about this, and Kumar picked it up in a very enthusiastic way. Women networks were actively engaged in the programme, and empowerment activities were integrated in the initial work plans. As a result, women have been speaking up and are voicing their wants and needs. This is a big change, as before ASHA this was a rare thing. Even in household chores, we see steps towards a more equal division.”

With the participation of Kumar in YEP Programmes, new expertise and methods have been brought. For example, by digitalizing the process of data collection with water. “ASHA makes me happy because through the project intervention, I have witnessed that people’s lives have changed from darkness to light. When I see the happiness in the faces of women, children and disadvantaged families, it makes me feel proud”, Kumar adds to this.

“We’ve set an ambitious goal for the programme, both Kumar and Selma add. “One of the challenges now is to make sure we truly leave ‘no one behind’ – which is an important aim of the SDGs. This is done by working closely together with all local stakeholders. ‘The word ASHA is defined as ‘hope’, and by going beyond solely providing water and sanitation services, we believe that, especially woman and girls, are able to live healthy lives free from discrimination, coercion and violence.”

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