Nepali women transform leadership in water and sanitation

Water user in rural Nepal (Photo: SNV/Meeting Point)

Community-based management of water sources in Sarlahi Nepal is facilitating improvements in water access and important shifts in leadership and governance structures. Today residents of 24 hamlets enjoy access to reliable and safe water. Twenty of the 24 hamlets are led by women.

Mrs Sita Devi Ram, 34, looks around her rural hamlet (tole in Nepali) with pride. Recently Sita Devi’s hamlet was awarded ‘Model WASH Tole.’ An award given to rural municipalities for good practices in the management of safe drinking water, use of toilets, and general good hygiene practices. ‘Because of regular good hygiene practice by all households in our tole, our surrounding is clean. It makes us feel happy. The people from other toles also show respect to us,’ said Sith Devi.

Rethinking forms of community-based management

With SNV’s support, a collaborative, inclusive, and tiered governance structure was strengthened to enable residents’ groundwater source management. Before project implementation, all 24 toles had poor access to drinking water and sanitation services.

Taking charge of rural water supply in Nepal (Photo: SNV/Meeting Point)

Taking charge of water supply improvements and cleanliness in rural Nepal

In collaboration with local government officials, SNV reanimated Ward WASH Coordination Committees (W-WASH CCs) within the Rural Municipalities (RMs). To deepen connections with the community, a second institutional tier was introduced: the Tole Sudhar Samitis (TSS).

With the WASH CCs and TSSs formed, seeking improvements to water access turned into a truly collective endeavour comprising RMs, W-WASH CCs, TSSs, SNV, and local NGOs and DPO (Disabled People’s Organisation) networks.

Multi-stakeholder leadership in practice

For a multi-stakeholder leadership model to work, roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined. In practice, community-based contributions to government SDG 6 commitment and ambitions are operationalised as follows:

  • W-WASH CCs identify areas to elevate to Model Tole within their respective wards. During the selection process, W-WASH CCs consider the diverse WASH needs of the population, especially groups that are most vulnerable and had been marginalised structurally.

  • W-WASH CCs set up a Tole Sudhar Samiti (TSS) for each tole, ensuring that there is diverse representation from all segments of the community.

  • TSSs prepare detailed plans to steer a specific tole in the direction of Model Tole status. Together with their W-WASH CC, TSSs ensure that there is a supply of sanitation and hygiene materials. TSSs also contribute to Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) activities. Thanks to the meaningful engagement of women in these committees, menstrual health and hygiene management forms an important part of their WASH endeavours.

  • Smaller teams of community members are mobilised to support BCC activities. Like the W-WASH CCs and TSSs, diverse representation is a requirement.

  • Once plans and structures are in place, W-WASH CCs request their respective RMs for supplies and other support.

Member of model WASH Tole in Chandranagar address community on benefits of good water and sanitation (Photo: SNV/Madan Barma/RWUA)

Member of model WASH Tole explaining the benefits of sanitation and hygiene

Dalit community in Ramnagar participate during Global Handwashing Day celebration, 2021 (Photo: SNV/Usha Devi Sahane)

Dalit community in Ramnagar show their support for Global Handwashing Day 2021 celebrations

Scaling up model and overcoming roadblocks

Replication of this multi-stakeholder, community-based management model is already taking place. Four rural municipalities (RMs) are planning to develop more Model Toles. NGOs like the Bagmati Sewa Samaj – a research partner of the International Water Management Institute in Sarlahi – opted to adapt model under its ‘Total Sanitation through Model Toles’ project in the Bagmati municipality.

As is normally the case, resource challenges were observed to slow down progress. In some cases, RMs did not provide adequate support to the process. For example, insufficient funds were released for a tole’s planned activities. To overcome resource constraints, the team, with the RMs, is partnering with other organisations – including World Vision and VSO – to leverage additional resources.

Contributors: SNV in Nepal's Sabitra Dhakhal with Sunetra Lala, Aastha Chhetri, and Ambika Yadav
Photos: Taken by partners of SNV in Nepal
More information
[1] This blog was written as part of the Inclusive and sustainable rural water supply services in Nepal funded by the Australian government’s Water for Women Fund.
[2] More recent gender-related materials in water and sanitation here: Gender transformative leadership in WASH during the COVID-19 pandemic | Strengthening gender and social inclusion in Nepal's rural water supply and hygiene services
[3] Contact SNV in Nepal by email.