News.Mar 10, 2021

Water Dialogues – Water Smart Solutions

On International Women’s Day, the third in our Water Dialogues series took place. Water and sanitation through the perspective of gender was discussed.

First, Kanika Groeneweg-Thakar (Gender Equality focal point at SIWI) set the scene and shed important light on the intersection between WASH (Water, sanitation and hygiene) and gender. Beyond looking at access to water and toilet services, Kanika emphasized that it is of utmost importance to have participatory processes in water governance.

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“But I’m not an engineer”

When approached to speak at this event, both Dr. Peter Morgan and Rachel Chang responded saying “but I’m not an engineer”. Rachel started her water journey with a very technical and engineer focused research project and has since moved into policy. Peter on the other hand, started his career as a biologist and moved towards the engineering path when he created a new design for pit toilets. While both making a great impact in the engineering sphere, Rachel and Peter are still considered ‘outsiders’, showing the importance that diversity has in driving research and innovation. Benefits which are felt throghtout society. as well as in society as a whole.

“It’s a disgrace and it needs to be sorted out”

Peter Morgan talked about how helping girls and women might not have been the intention with his inventions, but that the enclosed toilets did change many lives, through the privacy and dignity that they brought. One project which he was involved in, was aimed specifically at providing toilets for schoolchildren. Peter described how his awareness of the vulnerability that women face on a daily basis grew during the project: “It’s a disgrace and it needs to be sorted out”.

Going to the toilet shouldn’t be a matter of life or death.

Many societies put pressure and restrictions on girls and women for when, where and how they can access toilets. Many girls are absent from school during their menstruation, due to a lack of toilets, and some even drop out of school altogether. It is considered shameful if women do not hide their needs to go to the toilet. In order to hide these natural needs, women tend to relieve themselves when the sun has set, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to sexual violence and other threats. Kanika recently recorded a video detailing the biases and risks associated to something as simple as going to the toilet.

Clean & Accessible Water for all.

The inaccessibility of clean water and difficulty in detecting contaminated water was the catalyst for Rachel Chang’s interest in trying to find new solutions. This opened the door into the many existing problems within water access. Among these are the many hours which women and girls spend daily, collecting water and how this affects their level of education. The many social impacts that the lack of water has, was a major influence on Rachel’s decision to major in political science and environmental studies at Yale University.

“Women are fighting their way up”

Kanika stressed in her opening remarks that we need to increase the inclusion of women in decision-making in water management. As a UNDP study has showed, water use is more sustainable when both men and women have been involved in the policies around it.

“Rightfully, women are fighting their way up”, argued Peter and said that “If I was about 60 years younger, I would tackle it”. Instead, he remained hopeful that other people would join this fight. Rachel Chang argued the importance of leadership and stewardship in recognizing women in society. “Having role models help break down the notions of what a leader looks like or what a scientist looks like”, she said. When breaking these stereotypes and ideas, we inspire the next generation of young women to be the leaders of tomorrow. A lot is still left to be done with gender equality is still a huge issue globally. We must continue to see

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Meet our Speakers

Rachel Chang, along with Ryan Thorpe, conducted a study in high school in which they detect and purify water contaminated with Shigella, E. coli, Salmonella and Cholera more rapidly than conventional methods. Through the project, Rachel and Ryan traveled to Stockholm and won the 2017 Stockholm Junior Water Prize. Peter Morgan is a biologist, who got into engineer-oriented work through studying 14 000 flies surrounding a pit toilet, which eventually led to his development of the Blair Privy. His work with toilets, as well as hand pumps which have been at the center of his 40-year-old career, has helped millions of people and awarded Peter Morgan with the 2013 Stockholm Water Prize.