Category archives: Women

#WEDC41 Part 5: Be the change you want to see

In July, I spent two weeks in Kenya at the WEDC conference in Nakuru and visiting sanitation companies, Sanergy and Sanivation, and the newly-established sanitation research group at Meru University of Science and Technology. This is the last in a five-part series of blogs about that conference and those visits. You can see the earlier posts about (the lack of) government support for container-based sanitation businesses here, about WASH failures here, about behaviour change toolkits here, and about systems mapping and the role of religion here.

Sometimes you meet a person who you know is going to make big changes to the world around them. Joy Riungu, the Dean of Engineering and Architecture at Meru University of Science and Technology (MUST) is one of those people.

Meru, like any other town in East Africa, has its fair share of sanitation challenges. The sewerage system left behind by the British colonialists covers a small area of the town centre and is overloaded. Some of the septic tankers that serve those not connected to the sewerage system empty at the sewage treatment works but it is just as likely that they will empty into a storm water drain or a river. Many people’s only access to sanitation is a stinking pit latrine that seeps away into the nearest undergrowth or watercourse. Others have no option but to defecate in the open.

Joy wants to see all of that change. Her new research group, which includes microbiologists, engineers, economists, and agriculturalists, is determined that the work they do should lead to real changes to sanitation for Meru. Already, they are working with a local school to provide container-based toilets that separate urine and faeces and will not be affected by flooding when the heavy rains come. The waste from those toilets will be treated at a new black soldier fly larvae treatment facility on the university campus alongside food waste from the local market. The aim is a system with no waste products. The black soldier fly larvae are pasteurised to kill any pathogens and then fed to chickens, the residue from the treatment process is turned into a fertiliser and the urine will also be treated to produce a liquid fertiliser.

Joy recognises the challenges that Meru faces but sees them as opportunities. Across Kenya, if engineers are exposed to any form of wastewater treatment training during their degree, it is heavily focused on sewered sanitation. Joy sees a huge opportunity for MUST to become the first training centre for on-site sanitation engineers in Kenya. The people of Meru have a preference for the “flush and forget” approach of sewered sanitation but know that it isn’t an option for everyone. Joy is determined to ensure that the community understand that faecal sludge treatment and reuse can be a more cost-effective and sustainable option for their town.

Joy wants the research that her team does to have a direct impact on the communities around her and she recognises that Meru Water and Sewerage Services (MEWASS) are a critical stakeholder in that. For now, the MEWASS management won’t let her in to visit the sewage treatment works as they know the system does not operate well. However, when she took us to peer over the fence, one of the operators came to say hello. He was a former student and was pleased to see Joy and the rest of the team’s interest in improving the operation of the works. He promised to stay in touch. It is these little encounters that make you realise that where others only see challenges, Joy sees opportunities.

The enthusiasm and determination of Joy and her team is infectious. It is hard to look around the site when they are planning a faecal sludge laboratory, treatment facilities and agricultural field trials and not see the impact they are going to have on their town, their county, their country and beyond. Remember these names, and watch this space!

Start 2018 right: pledge to actively support diversity!

Following the #WDP36 list of women in drowning prevention, I posted on how to be an ally to under-represented groups.  Soon after that, I was approached by SOBRASA, a Brazilian drowning prevention organisation,.  They wanted to encourage individuals and organisations to take the five steps towards diversity that were listed in that blog.  Together we came up with the graphic below and already, drowning prevention organisations across the world have pledged to actively support diversity.

If you want to help your organisation grow by becoming more diverse and inclusive, pledge here.

Actively support diversity

In my personal work and that of my organisation, I will actively support diversity by:

  1. Recognising I am not the right person for every opportunity and sharing those opportunities with others.
  2. Finding ways to involve women and people of colour who can also benefit from opportunities I am offered.
  3. In collaborative work, giving full credit to the people who did the work.
  4. Using my position of power to push for diversity and actively including under-represented groups in my work.
  5. Challenging other people when I see or hear discriminatory action.

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In my personal work and that of my organisation, I will actively support diversity by: 1. Recognising I am not the right person for every opportunity and sharing those opportunities with others. 2. Finding ways to involve women and people of colour who can also benefit from opportunities I am offered. 3. In collaborative work, giving full credit to the people who did the work. 4. Using my position of power to push for diversity and actively including under-represented groups in my work. 5. Challenging other people when I see or hear discriminatory action.


How to be an ally

Following on from the publication of the #WDP36 list two weeks ago, some men have asked what they can do to support women around them and increase the representation of women in leadership positions.

Old rich white men dominate drowning prevention. Young black people dominate the drowning fatalities. If the drowning prevention community wants to achieve a significant global reduction in drowning, then the community needs to be more inclusive and more diverse. It needs to listen to voices from different countries, diverse backgrounds, different genders, and different experiences.

The fact that people are asking how they can support that is testament to their commitment to improve diversity. The question is what that commitment should look like. Let’s start by defining the problem:

Think about the positions that you hold on committees, in working groups and in leadership positions. In many cases, you have that position of power or responsibility because you were in the right place at the right time. Maybe someone who knows you and thought you would do a good job put you forward for the role. After all, it’s not what you know but who you know? That’s the problem – not everyone knows the right people so then what happens? They never get a chance at that position you hold. It’s important to understand that your status as a man and particularly as a white man gives you access to certain opportunities that women and people of colour may not get. That is not to say that you are not a suitable candidate for those roles, but you are not the only suitable candidate. Other suitable candidates never get the opportunity to take on those roles because they are not in the right place at the right time because they don’t know the right people.

Diversity needs active supporters, allies if you will and a large part of that role is recognising how opportunities can be shared to a more diverse group of people.

Here are five steps to becoming an ally, whether to women, people of colour or other groups underrepresented in leadership.
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#WDP36 – More than a popularity contest…

In 2015, the first Women in Global Health list was published. It was a list of 100 leading women working in global health, and it has since grown to include more notable women in the field. It was started by Ilona Kickbusch, Director of the Global Health Programme at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. She was bored of attending conferences and panels where she was the only woman speaker. She decided that she needed to showcase women in global health and asked her Twitter followers to nominate women to the list. The idea caught on and the list grew.

At the World Conference on Drowning Prevention 2017 in Vancouver, Canada, a similar Twitter campaign was run using #WDP36 to find a list of 36 leading women in drowning prevention. Why 36? Because some amazing women work to prevent 360,000 drowning deaths every year and that’s something to shout about. Women were nominated on Twitter with the only criteria being that they play an active role at the forefront of drowning prevention. The aim of the list is increase visibility of women working in drowning prevention, highlight the contribution of women in advancing both research and practice and to offer role models to young women. Women are listed alphabetically by surname. Like the Women in Global Health list, the Women in Drowning Prevention can grow with time. This is only the beginning…

Women in drowning prevention WCDP17

Caroline Lukaszyk, Tessa Clemens, Alison Mahoney and Amy Peden were the four presenters in the Non-Fatal Drowning Data session at WCDP2017

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Trump vs Women Round 1: The “A” bomb

One of President Trump’s first acts in the White House was to reinstate the Mexico City Policy, or “the global gag rule”.  The policy is reinstated and revoked every time the White House changes from Democrat to Republican and back.  That’s because the subject of the policy, abortion, is a highly politicised topic in America.

The policy means that NGOs that receive US foreign aid funding are not allowed to provide or promote abortions.  It was first instated by Reagan in 1984 and it essentially exports the US debate on abortion.  Sadly, that has dramatic negative effects on the health of women the world over.  NGOs that provide family planning services now have a choice to make.  Either they need to drop abortions from the suite of family planning options that they discuss, or they lose all US foreign aid funding.  It’s important to note two things:
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Mind the confidence gap

Last week I went to assessment centre for a role that involved leading teams and projects within an international development organisation. Speaking to others towards the end of the day about how they thought their one-to-one interviews went, I noticed something. The male candidates were extremely up-beat about their interviews whilst the women were significantly more reserved.

A few of these women ended up having a brief discussion about how well they thought they sell themselves and again the outcome was not positive. They found it difficult to give themselves credit for their contribution to work as part of a team, they perceived many of their achievements as less down to their own knowledge and skills than a good dose of luck and generally, they disliked the feeling of arrogance associated with telling people what they were good at. Certainly not an ideal situation in which to face an interview panel.
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#TraditionallySubmissive: An open letter to David Cameron

Dear Mr Cameron,

I was appalled to hear your comments about the “traditional submissiveness of Muslim women” that have been so widely shared and ridiculed on social media.  I have lived and worked in a number of countries, including those that are predominantly Muslim and, in my experience, your comments could not be further from the truth.  The Muslim women that I have met are invariably strong women who realise that, in many ways, the world appears to be stacked against them and yet I have found that this never prevents them from doing the best they can for their families, their communities and society at large.  Whilst I understand that anecdotes are not the same thing as data, let me share with you some of these women. Read more