SNV WASH project promotes women as change agents for water source functionality

In this article, SNV in Uganda highlights the contributions women are making to boost the functionality of water sources in Uganda.

Female Caretaker inspects water source

Though the burden of water collection in many rural communities predominantly falls on women and children, they stand to benefit the most from improvements in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services. It therefore stands to reason that women’s involvement in WASH–related decision-making processes improves outcomes for all.

Acen Susan, Community Development Officer and Focal Point of the Improving Water Supply Sustainability (IWAS) Phase II Project in Abia Sub-County, Alebtong District couldn’t agree more. ‘If we are to have more functioning water sources, we need more women to take up leadership positions in water source committees and water boards because they understand the pain points when water sources breakdown,’ she emphasised.

As part of the SNV IWAS II advocacy to increase the participation of women in Water Source Committees (WSCs), the team has been implementing a 30% minimum requirement for women’s membership and leadership in WSCs. This quota system has not only encouraged more women to vie for leadership positions. It has also facilitated women’s active participation in WASH-related activities within their communities.

The project oversees 850 water sources in four districts in Northern Uganda: Lira, Dokolo, Alebtong, and Kole. Through the project’s sensitisation efforts, more water sources now have an average of two women leaders per WSC. Akaano water source in Akaano village, Aberidouuogo parish, Abia Sub-county is among the project sites with the highest number of women leaders in the WSC: five out of nine. Women also steer operations and maintenance activities, including in the vicinity of water sources.

Harriet Abonyo, a mother of three and caretaker of Akaano water source, has been a member of the Water User Committee (WUC) of Akaano village in the last four years. Living close to the water source, Harriet vied for a leadership role because she wanted to protect the water source, especially from children who played around the water source and made it dirty. ‘Oftentimes children defecated around the water source making it unhygienic for water users. Something had to be done about this. So, I decided to become the caretaker,’ Harriet said. When her village WSC was revamped, Harriet ran for the position of caretaker and won with a majority vote.

Kia Betty, Sub-county Chief provides hands-on support during rehabilitation

Kia Betty, Sub-county Chief provides hands-on support during rehabilitation

Within the village, Harriet is known to call out users who mishandle the handpump. She had not only managed to keep children from playing around the water source, she had also discouraged the practice of allowing animals to drink from the water source (to prevent contamination). Through her vigilance as caretaker, Harriet improved the environment around the water source and kept the water source from breaking down. Since Harriet took over the caretaker reigns in 2016, the village’s attitude towards the water source has greatly improved, with more households paying their monthly water user fees.

Harriet works closely with the Parish WASH Coordinator, Santa Apali, who is also a member of the Sub-county Water Board in Abia. Santa supports the WUCs in executing activities, including the fencing of water sources, collecting and remitting operation and maintenance (O&M) funds to the sub-county water board, etc. She oversees WASH activities in eight villages in the parish and reports to the project’s focal point who is a member of the Sub-county Water Supply and Sanitation Board (SWSSB). At the SWSSB, Santa’s work is supervised by Acen Susan, the Community Development Officer who has been overseeing WASH activities in the sub-county in the last eight years.

At the helm of the Abia SWSSB is Betty Kia, the Sub-county Chief and Secretary of the SWSSB. Betty oversees 60 point water sources in her sub-county, which serves 15,000 people. Of the 60 water sources, 45 are registered with the water board and remitting O&M funds. Each household that draw water from the water source makes a monthly contribution of UGX 1,000 for O&M. Although collection and remittance of O&M funds to the SWSSB has greatly been affected during the national lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Betty and her team has managed to keep 43 of the 45 registered water sources functional, with only two water sources breaking down. Someday, Betty hopes to work with a female handpump mechanic who would carry out preventative maintenance of water sources in her sub-county.

Women’s increasing leadership roles is part of the IWAS project, which is funded by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA). The project aims to ensure the functionality of 850 water sources in order to deliver an uninterrupted water supply service to 212,500 people. Towards achieving this goal, the project applies a sub-county water board model, which relies on a triangular and cooperative relationship between the sub-county water board, handpump mechanics association, and water user committees at village level. Although most of the committees are still predominantly male, women are rising as key change agents to improve water source functionality. Hence, villages are starting to take notice of the positive contributions women can make as equal partners of change.