Concern Universal, the Nigerian Government and WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund are working in partnership through the ‘Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria’(RUSHPIN) programme. Its main approach, known as Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS), creates an environment where entire communities are mobilized to end open defecation. This process also opens the door for women to become powerful agents of change.
Through the CLTS approach, hundreds of women from rural communities across southeastern Nigeria are taking the lead in championing sanitation and hygiene. Here are a few of the inspiring women and how they are transforming the health of their communities:
Building Better Partnerships: Joy Ettah
Joy Ettah is a Community Development Officer with the Abi local government WASH department. Working alongside rural community members to help them eliminate open defecation, Joy has built a strong rapport with these communities and can see the positive impact she is having, especially inspiring women to take the lead in their communities: “I see that things are improving. This project has brought a lot of changes in their lives, and they even call me to come around when I am not on duty.”
Leading by Example: Blessing Lebo
The bottom-up CLTS approach empowers women to become champions for improved sanitation and hygiene in their communities. While often facing ridicule or social exclusion, these women also challenge established gender roles.
When Blessing Lebo, Itoli community, visited households to encourage them to build toilets, the men dismissed her as a “foolish woman”. In response, Blessing Lebo rallied their wives to lead by example. With the women building the toilets for their families, she then challenged the men: “What a man cannot do, a woman has done. So what are you men doing for this community?” Since then, the men have joined the women in building toilets, and have together succeeded in making their community open-defecation-free.
Institutionalizing Inclusion: The Women of Ebo
CLTS isn’t just about building toilets. It’s about creating inclusive community-based institutions to sustain behaviour change – such as Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committees (WASHCOMs) – that promote gender equality.
In a project funded by Polish Aid, the community of Ebo achieved full sanitation coverage and gained access to safe water after their boreholes were rehabilitated. To ensure that the resulting health benefits are sustainable and inclusive, Ebo formed a WASHCOM with 50% female representation. Ranging from 20 to 68 years old, Ebo’s women WASHCOM members meet each week to discuss how to improve sanitation access for elderly people and promote improved hygiene practices for young girls, mothers, and widows through household visits. They also help guarantee continual access to safe water during the dry season by ensuring that their boreholes are locked during non-peak hours to conserve water.
Blazing a Trail: Sarah Ode
The RUSHPIN programme is not only committed to enhancing gender equality at the community level, but also increasing women’s representation across the WASH sector in Cross River and Benue States.
As a local government WASH Coordinator, Sarah Ode received intense training by global experts from the Community-led Total Sanitation Foundation and then played a vital role in ensuring that the knowledge and skills learnt were utilised effectively by her team, who have so far supported 71 communities to end open defecation. Recently, Sarah has been promoted to work with the Cross River State Government Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency in order to share her skills and inspiration with staff and communities with all 18 local governments in the State.