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In my country, Nigeria, rural women and their children, especially their daughters, have the burden of providing water to their homes. They are also expected to keep their houses and environs clean. So over the years, from experience, when the issue of a good water supply is mentioned the women are usually very interested.
Nigeria has one of the highest infant (under five) mortality rates as a result of inadequate and poor quality water supply, poor sanitation and hygiene practices. The under-five deaths are sadly caused by preventable diseases such as diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera etc. which are all waterborne.
Before the introduction of CLTS (Community Lead Total Sanitation) through the GSF (Global Sanitation Fund) Projects in Nigeria, Water Committees were usually set up when water was provided by any of the three tiers (Federal, State and Local Government Areas) of government. Women’s inclusion on Water Committees was always insisted upon. Experience has shown that where the women are given leadership roles in the Committees they excel. If they are made the treasurers, the token payments made by villagers when they fetch water are properly kept and managed efficiently for the operation and maintenance of the water source and its environs.
With the introduction of the CLTS through the GSF that is funding some LGAs in two states (Cross Rivers and Benue), during the trigger stage, the women and the men are placed in separate groups for discussions. Initially, the men would like to give the impression that they are smarter than their wives, but when natural leaders are being identified, often the women take 50 to 60% of the positions. The women in the WASHCOM (WASH Committees) set up were full of good ideas and enthusiasm.
In Cross River State, Helen Ekpo Bassey from Ekpeti village in Yakurr (Local Government Area) LGA is one of the Natural Leaders identified. She has been steadfast in her work. She mobilised the villagers in her Local Government Area and even though the project has not fully started blossoming, she has ensured that her village is already ODF (Open Defecation Free). She has encouraged the villagers to build pour flush toilets with tiling on the floor. She has introduced water closets for the more affluent and has encouraged the women in those communities to construct public toilets in the market place.
In the same Cross River State, Esther Etuah owns an NGO for mobilizing women. With the introduction of CLTS she has mobilized the women, and her NGO is working very hard to ensure that the women in her rural area are conversant with the benefits of Sanitation and good Hygiene practices. She is now the Deputy LGA Chairman which is a huge plus for the sector.
In the last few years, the WASH sector in Nigeria has been blessed with women leaders. The Honourable Minister of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources is Sarah Ochekpe. When she wrote to the wives of the governors in the 36 states of Nigeria, two of them immediately embraced the CLTS. The Osun State wife of the Governor, Sherifat Abidemi Aregbosola, mobilised the entire State including her husband and the LGA Chairman, resulting in more funds being put into WASH and CLTS being practised in all the LGAs.
Similarly, the wife of Katsina State Governor Hajia Fatima Ibrahim, through her NGO mobilized the women in her state and CLTS is now in all the LGAs. Both ladies are now WASH Ambassadors in their states.
As the WSSCC (Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council) WASH Ambassador for Nigeria, I work closely with the National Task Group on Sanitation (NTGS) which comprises Ministries of Water Resources, Environment, Health, Finance, Education, Woman Affairs, Water Aid, UNICEF, Unilever, and the press to drive high-level advocacy and campaigns towards addressing the significant challenges of sanitation and hygiene in Nigeria in order to achieve the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals).
I carry out high level advocacy to ensure that more funds, through the government and the private sector, are brought into the sector. I have made courtesy visits to a number of Ministers, the National Assembly, the Development Partners and Women religious leaders.
In WASH, female leadership is most important as the women know where the shoes pinch and so carry out whatever activities they are given with passion. More women should be encouraged to work in the sector as more lives have been saved in the last few years, resulting in a healthier work force and an increase in the nation’s GDP. Ngozi Okonjo Iwela is the Honourable Minister of Finance and the Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy. She is also very passionate about WASH. She has featured twice in SWA (Sanitation and Water for All) HLM (High Level Meetings) in Washington in 2010 and 2012.
Very interestingly, the First Lady of Nigeria, Her Excellency, Patience Faka Jonathan, has recently declared her interest in the WASH sector. She is incidentally the leader of the African First ladies. She will definitely mobilize the women of Africa.