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Sharing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) learning at the WEDC Conference

Sharing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) learning at the WEDC Conference

At the end of July, Plan International's water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) staff from around the world descended on the British town of Loughborough for a week.

The reason? To attend the annual WEDC Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Conference. Held in a different location each year, the 2017 conference was hosted by Loughborough University and was attended by several hundred delegates from more than 40 countries.

The conference aims to provide a forum for reflection, debate and exchange of WASH knowledge and ideas that are rooted in practice. With a packed schedule of presentations, side events, networking opportunities and capacity-building workshops, and with delegates from international and local NGOs, the private sector, UN institutions, academia, government and donors, this year’s conference didn’t disappoint.

A group of girls in Kwale, Kenya fetch water in the mid-morning heat. Much of girls' study time is taken up by fetching water. Sometimes girls can only go to school for half-a-day, missing out on their lessons.
A group of girls in Kwale, Kenya, collect water in the mid-morning heat. Much of girls' study time is taken up by fetching water, and sometimes girls can only go to school for half a day, missing out on their lessons.

A prerequisite for realising other human rights

The human right to water and sanitation is indispensable for people to lead a healthy, dignified life. Combined with improved hygiene behaviours, it is also a prerequisite for realising other human rights – particularly the right to the highest attainable standard of living and health.

At Plan International UK, we are working with partners across Africa and Asia to enable girls, boys and families from hard-to-reach groups and settings to claim these rights.

We're doing this by supporting them to gain access to sustainable, safe drinking water and improved sanitation, and to make sustained improvements in personal hygiene in households, community and institutional settings, while safeguarding the environment.

A fundamental component of a just world

We also place particular emphasis on working with girls, because we know that girls and women are disproportionally affected by a lack of clean drinking water, safe and private sanitation, and good hygiene practices.

They face the greatest burden of water collection, household hygiene and care, making WASH a fundamental component of a just world that advances children’s rights and equality for girls.

However, they also have distinct needs and preferences which are too often not recognised sufficiently by WASH programmes. If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’ aim of leaving no one behind, we must ensure girls’ and women’s needs and preferences are adequately addressed.

We must also recognise that these may vary across the diverse contexts we work in, and that they change over time. It's vital that we continue to question and check our assumptions and remain open to learning and adapting.

Two girls collect water from a tank at their school in Uganda.

An opportunity to reflect on how we can improve

As we embark on a new phase of Plan International UK’s biggest WASH programme – the South Asia WASH Results Programme (SAWRP) – the challenges of equity and inclusion, sustainability, and monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) are at the forefront of our minds.

We have an opportunity to reflect on how we can improve moving forward. As such, it was fantastic to see a growing number of presentations and events at this year’s WEDC conference dedicated to these themes.

Along with other colleagues from Plan International in the UK, Cambodia, Indonesia and Uganda, as well as SAWRP partners from WaterAid and WEDC, we were excited to lead and contribute to the discussions.

In addition to the valuable informal conversations and contacts made over the course of the week:

  • We presented a paper on findings from our recent formative research on menstrual hygiene management in Bangladesh. In this, we prioritised capturing the voices of girls, which we are now using to inform our work under SAWRP moving forward. Interesting questions were raised on how we are managing the process of translating our findings into action and, although it’s too early to say at this stage (as we’re still doing it!), we’re looking forward to sharing more on this in the future.
  • Colleagues from other Plan offices around the world presented a range of papers, on Menstrual Hygiene Management in Uganda, WASH Sustainability in Indonesia, and the influence of real time learning in WASH Programming in Cambodia.
  • As part of an Inclusive WASH capacity building day, we ran a workshop on gender and WASH, focussing in particular on Plan Australia’s innovative Gender and WASH Monitoring Tool, which we hope to incorporate in SAWRP moving forward.

It was interesting to hear insights from sector colleagues from around the world who are or have been responsible for carrying out gendered WASH tasks.

Overall, the session generated valuable discussion around the importance of giving people space to talk about – and commit to listening to – personal experiences, feelings and opinions on these sometimes sensitive or contentious topics.

Menstrual hygiene management in Bangladesh

Find out more about our formative research and findings