Taboos, Sanitation, and Women’s Rights

The meeting convened on the impact of sanitation and water supply to the empowerment of women. Sanitation, in toilets or menstrual hygiene management, has been defined by the General Assembly as an essential human right. Evidenced through the creation of SDG 6, achieving gender equality through WASH has become a priority.

H.E. Ms. Lamilla stated that 2.5 billion people still lack suitable spaces to take care of their personal hygiene. According to the WSSCC, one billion people still resort to open defecation. H.E. contended that adequate sanitation is the minimum standard for a life of dignity. Access to water supply is also paramount.  According to WHO recommendations, an individual should intake a minimum of 5 liters of water/day, accessible to them within 1 km from home. In developing countries, women are oftentimes responsible for collecting water. When water access is far from home, women need to walk long distances to collect it. Consequently, this takes time away from their education and renders them prone to exhaustion and sexual abuse.  It is the obligation of the state to ensure public access to water; otherwise it is the poor who will suffer the most.

Panelists further discussed the importance of breaking social taboos around menstrual hygiene. As Ms. Agrawal noted, “The thing that we cannot speak of, is the thing that creates all human life.” Ms. Shrestha stressed that it is crucial to determine the root cause of such taboos. In western Nepal, menstruating girls practice “chaupadi” and remain secluded in sheds for fear of spreading illness and offending the gods. Taboos are often rooted in traditional beliefs.

Ms. Fry recommended forming partnerships with men, and educating girls on menstrual hygiene management before the onset of their periods which will help them avoid early pregnancies and marriages and keep them in school.

Meeting: “Achieving Gender Equality through WASH.”

Date/Location: Friday, March 18, 2016; 10:00 AM-1:00 PM; Conference Room E

Speakers: H.E. Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera, Permanent Representative, Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN; H.E. Ms. Anne Lammila, Ambassador for Gender Equality and Women’s Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland; Ms. Inga Winkler, Independent Expert on Human Rights, WSSCC; Ms. Liesl Gerntholtz, Human Rights Watch; Ms. Miki Agrawal, THINX; Ms. Cecile Shrestha, WaterAid America; Ms. Mbarou Gassama, UN Women and South Asia: “Leave No One Behind” WSSCC/FANSA; Ms. Ramatoulaye Dieng, Senegal Ministry of the Environment; Ms. Absa Wade, Ministry of Gender, Senegal; Ms. Sarah Fry, FHI360/USAID WASH Plus

Written By: WIT Representative Emilie Broek

Edited By: WIT Representative Alex Margolick

“No Waste Water, Only Wasted Water”

   A new report, “The UNSGAB Journey”, on water and sanitation was launched by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB) at today’s press conference. The advisory board was founded in 2004 by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan “to bring together eminent people to advise on how to solve the planet’s foremost water and sanitation troubles, suggest a handful of attainable recommendations and a concise plan of action, and then provide the high-level leadership needed to galvanize the international community into action on the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets for drinking water and sanitation.” The group’s 11-year mandate has come to an end and this is the final work to be put out by the group.

   The report shines light on 7 tipping points to transform the water world:

  1. Build attention to water and sanitation: create the will to act now
  2. Drinking Water: More. Managed. Monitored. Made safe.
  3. Bring sanitation into the mainstream
  4. Push for increased and improved financial flows
  5. Catalyze better water resources management. IWRM and Nexus: within and between countries, across sectors
  6. Demand UN attention to pollution prevention, wastewater treatment and safe reuse
  7. Promote protection and prevent death and damage from water-related disasters

   The report also includes words of wisdom for future advisory groups and discusses unfinished business and tasks for the future.

   The advisory group worked by identifying personalities and institutions that had high leverage and would be able to bring political attention to sanitation and UNSGAB was successful in putting wastewater management on the UN agenda. The speakers left the audience with the mantra “there is no waste water, but only wasted water.”

Meeting: Launch of a New Report by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB)

Speakers: Ms. Uschi Eid, United Nations Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB); and UNSGAB Members: Ms. Maggie Catley-Carlson; Ms. Maria Mutagamba; and Mr. Gerard Payen.

Written By: WIT Representative Tania Makker

Edited By: WIT Representative Alex Margolick

Photo credit:

Panel discussion on the occasion of the World Toilet Day

world-toilet-day_50b8f4f685beb_w1500The panel discussion was in recognition of the 2nd World Toilet Day, which is a day marked to bring awareness to approximately ⅓ of the people around the world who do not have access to a toilet, despite the human right to water and sanitation. This event mainly focused on open defecation and the challenges of women and children in developing countries.

The UN- Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS) 2014 Report theme is increasing access to sanitation while reducing inequalities worldwide. The Chair of UN-Water stated that he is proud of the comprehensive data released in each GLAAS report, and that agencies must come together to ensure progress and environmental sustainability. From 1990 to 2012, 2.3 billion people gained access to improved drinking water. Within the same time period, the number of children deaths related to diarrhoeal diseases fell from 1.5 million deaths to about 600,000 deaths. There is a strong correlation between water quality, sanitation, and diarrhoeal disease.

According to the Deputy Secretary General, about 2.5 billion people around the world have no access to improved sanitation. Just 18 months ago, community efforts were started to eliminate open defecation by 2025. Ending open defecation would lead to a 30%-40% reduction of deaths due to diarrhea. The statement, “toilets bring dignity and equality” was brought up multiple times throughout the event.

A representative from UN Women discussed the importance of sanitation and toilets. Women before and after giving birth are at high risks of infection and infecting their children due to lack of sanitation. Something as simple as having access to soap and water to wash one’s hands can prevent the spread of disease. Overall, many representatives agreed that good health is the basis of human life and investments should be made to improve social lives and dignity.

Meeting Topic: Panel discussion on the occasion of the World Toilet Day (in accordance with General Assembly resolution 67/291, entitled “Sanitation for All”) (co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Singapore and UN-Water)
Date/Location: Wednesday, November 19, 2014; 1:15 pm- 3:00 pm; Trusteeship Council Chamber
Speakers: Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, Singapore Ambassador Karen Tan, Chair of UN Water Michel Jarraud, World Health Organization (WHO) representative from New York Jeni Oppenheimer, Unilever Representative Dr. Analia Mendez, UN Women, Dr. Jean Chamberlain video feed from Save the Mothers, Senior Responder to Cholera in Haiti, Representative from UNICEF, Representatives of India, Rwanda, Samoa, Vietnam, Suriname, Nepal, and Granada
Written by WIT Representatives: Paige Stokols and Alis Yoo

Edited by WIT Representative: Aslesha Dhillon

Human Rights to Water and Sanitation: Tools for their Realization and Remedies for Violations

imagesAn event was held concerning water and sanitation as human rights as well as the opportunities and challenges facing the extension of these rights to the global population. The representative of Germany began by noting that while support for these issues as human rights has increased, climate change and other factors could impede future access to sustainable water sources. Billions of people today live without reliable water and/or proper sanitation facilities. Germany believes that those in need should be included in creating policy for ensuring future access. Current SDG outlines call for universal access by 2030.

Ms. de Albuquerque explained that many states have not had the ability to turn political will into practice regarding protection of these rights. To change this, she created a handbook that provides guidance to states that need it. The handbook is separated into nine issues fundamental to the realization of water and sanitation rights. Mr. Alston hailed the handbook for its ability to “operationalize the wisdom that has been learned” during the rapporteur’s mandate. Further, the consensus created around water and sanitation as human rights is important because it connects them with internationally binding standards and obligations, thus transforming how the issues are approached. People, especially women, must now become empowered to demand their rights, and civil society must pressure governments to adhere to rights standards. UNICEF’s representative stressed the necessity of compiling information in the form of data that allows the international community to monitor the progress of states’ advancement of water and sanitation rights.

            The Spanish representative concluded by applauding the conceptual combination of water and sanitation, which has helped increase global awareness of sanitation issues. He also called on the international community to ensure the inclusion of meaningful water and sanitation goals in the post-2015 development agenda.

Meeting: The Human Rights to Water and Sanitation: Tools for their Realization and Remedies for Violations.”
22 October 2014
Location: Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium, UN HQ, New York.
Speakers: Catarina de Albuquerque, Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation; Philip Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights; Representative of the Permanent Mission of Germany; Representative of the Permanent Mission of Spain; Representative of UNICEF; Representative of OHCHR.                      
Written by WIT Representative: Philip Bracey
Edited by WIT Representative: Aslesha Dhillon

Environment and Humanitarian Action: Increasing Effectiveness, Sustainability, and Accountability


Today an event was held which highlighted how environmental sustainability is an integral part in humanitarian aid effectiveness. The panelists in this meeting discussed the findings from a report entitled “Environment and Humanitarian Action: Increasing Effectiveness, Sustainability, and Accountability.”

The first speaker, Ms. Gebremedhin, the Director of Humanitarian Assistance and Foreign Affairs of Finland, began by addressing various environmental issues that need to be taken into account during humanitarian action, in order for it to reach its full potential. For example, management of solid wastes and hazardous materials and safeguarding natural resources are essential, and the reduction of deforestation, desertification, and pollution is necessary for sustained livelihoods in the aftermath of a disaster. Furthermore, efficient leadership and accountability are needed in humanitarian situations, and addressing environmental concerns is a shared responsibility between donors and humanitarian organisations.

Following, Mr. Khalikov, Director of OCHA Geneva, stated the effectiveness of humanitarian aid is dependent on environmental conditions. He cited floods and draughts as main environmental threats that can complicate an already existing humanitarian crisis, like a famine or armed conflict.

Ms. Anita van Breda from WWF USA spoke about combining climate change adaptation strategies with disaster risk reduction. She highlighted the Green Recovery Program – a partnership between WWF and the American Red Cross –, which works to sustain livelihoods, provide adequate water, sanitation, and shelter, and deals with disaster management. Her three key recommendations to take the environment into consideration when taking humanitarian action included: updating academic training and professional development, learning to manage change and developing new ways of learning, and ensuring that staff and volunteers have the necessary discipline, skills, and aptitude.

Concluding the meeting Ms. Costa, the Executive Director of the Women’s Refugee Commission spoke about the threat faced by women and girls when they have to leave their refugee camps to collect firewood for cooking and heating. Many have to travel 5 or 6 hours a day to collect enough wood to cook just one meal, and on the journey are raped, beaten, or killed. Ms. Costa emphasised the importance of shifting communities away from dependence on wood fuel and towards more environmentally friendly and sustainable options in order to decrease the threat of this gender based violence and to reduce deforestation and resource overconsumption.

Meeting Title: Environment and Humanitarian Action: Increasing Effectiveness, Sustainability, and Accountability
Speakers: Ms. Anna Gebremedhin, Director of Humanitarian Assistance and Foreign Affairs of Finland; Mr. Rashid Khalikov, Director of the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Geneva; MS. Anita van Breda, Director of Humanitarian Partnerships, WWF USA; Ms. Sarah Costa, Executive Director of Women’s Refugee Commission
Location: Conference Room 5 NLB, United Nations HQ, New York
Date: 23 June 2014
Written by WIT Representative: Marli Kasdan
Edited by WIT Representative: Sophia Griffiths-Mark