An indigenous movement helps women and people living with disabilities advocate for their rights in public platforms.
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Sustainable WASH for all can only be achieved when all citizens – including women and people living with disabilities – contribute to policy development and implementation. In Nanyuki, Kenya, women participation yields results now they know how to advocate for improved service delivery and water resource management.
In times of flood, drought and water rationing, water access and quality are a challenge for the over 400,000 people living in Nanyuki County. Women and people living with disabilities are most affected by water issues as they have more household responsibilities and larger water needs, but they are limited in their opportunities to voice their concerns. Even with the Public Participation Act for Laikipia County as a legal basis, it hasn’t been easy to engage citizens in a meaningful way. Brian Kwena, Project Officer for the Watershed programme, experienced this as he tried to involve citizens in decision making processes: “The main challenge was convincing people that it’s only through public participation that anybody in this country is able to influence government processes.”
However, speaking up is only possible when you know what you are talking about and where to voice your concerns and ideas. For many citizens, including the disabled Valentine Mombafi this isn’t a given. She explains: “We didn’t know about public participation, we didn’t know about budgeting, women didn’t know anything about the government.” This changed when she was invited to participate in water management and WASH meetings. Little by little she used her influence to bring the water issues of women and people living with disabilities in Nanyuki forward. So far, Valentine has successfully advocated for a water tank for a local school, has joined the board of water company NAWASCO and sat in the Laikipia East Budget Committee. Having a seat at the table is a great step forward, it helps to be recognized. As Valentine says “Not unless we will have one of our own there, nobody talks about us, or they give us a project that we don’t really need.”
Being neglected is however still a risk for women in rural, pastoralist communities. Policies around water management often don’t reach the pastoralists as they live sparsely and receive scarce information from the government. Moreover, even young women in their teens and twenties have grown up in families who feel women and girls are responsible for fetching water, but have no place in decision making processes that can improve water access or services.
The Indigenous Movement for Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation (IMPACT) is changing this situation. Local project coordinators like Elizabeth Silakan know from personal experience how difficult it can be for women to speak up in their community. This makes Elizabeth even more determined to advocate for women’s rights in water, even if it takes months to bring women on board, and to familiarize them with things like meetings and active participation. Through these continuous interactions women become more confident in making their voices heard. Elizabeth proudly recalls: “When the flow of river Nanyuki was obstructed, it was the women of Karionga Village who addressed the issue with the authorities and managed to get the water released.”
The actions of Valentine and Elizabeth show that the inclusion of women and people living with disabilities is only possible if platforms for public participation exist, and are known, accessible, and used by everyone. Achieving sustainable WASH for all citizens, with all citizens, therefore calls for permanent integration and continuous development of these platforms in the standard practices of the Nanyuki County government.
Watershed aims to build the capacity of civil society organisations in six countries: Kenya, Uganda, Mali, Ghana, Bangladesh, India and also at international level, for evidence-based lobbying and advocacy on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) issues. This five-year partnership (2016 – 2020) contributes to the Sustainable Development Goal for universal access to water and sanitation services and water security by making the voices of citizens heard and strengthen governance and accountability.
The partnership activities will specifically focus on the identification and inclusion of the marginalised in WASH and IWRM governance.
Initially, the partnership was called WASH IT!, but changed its name to Watershed – empowering citizens.
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