Long Read
9 March 2020

Simavi celebrates the 10th anniversary of the human rights to water and sanitation

Throughout 2020, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation is organising the celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the General Assembly resolution 64/292, which recognised the human rights to water and sanitation.

The Special Rapporteur is partnering with various organisations to promote the human rights to water and sanitation (HRWS), including Simavi. In March, the theme in focus is “gender equality in the human rights to water and sanitation”, a theme that particularly fits with the work Simavi has been conducting over many years now and with our human rights-based approach.

In this context, we are honoured to join the campaign and, on this occasion, join other actors in promoting the human rights to water and sanitation and highlighting examples of materials, tools, and work that we have developed and conducted over the past few years on the theme gender equality and the HRWS.

Throughout this article, you can find links to our materials. During the month of March, we will also be highlighting our work and materials on social media, and linking them to the gender equality report of the Special Rapporteur.

The campaign can be followed on social media through the hashtags #mywatsanmyrights #HRWASH2020. Our own campaign uses #WomensRightsareHumanRights

Who is the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation? 

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation is part of the special procedures of the Human Rights Council, an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights.

The Special Rapporteur is mandated to report and advise on issues related to the human rights to water and sanitation, and provide recommendations to Governments, to the United Nations and other stakeholders. Mr. Léo Heller, appointed in 2014, is the current mandate holder for this position. 

In 2015, we joined the expert consultations on gender equality in the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation, that took place in 2016 ahead of the preparation of the gender equality thematic report prepared by the Special RapporteurRead the interview with Mr. Léo Heller on that occasion:

Interview with Mr. Léo Heller


A shared agenda: exploring the links between water, sanitation, hygiene and sexual and reproductive health and rights in sustainable development 

Gender inequality in access to water and sanitation facilities affect a wide range of other human rights. Read how we examine the role of WASH in relation to the right to sexual and reproductive health (SRHR).

Exploring the links between WASH and SRHR


Commission on the Status of Women: civil society statement on menstrual health

On 9th March 2020, the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women adopted the draft Political Declaration.

In support of the Commission of the Status of Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the Global Menstrual Health and Hygiene Collective has issued the civil society statement to call for greater attention and improved investment for menstrual health to achieve gender equality. The statement has been endorsed by 34 organisations across the world.

The Global Menstrual Health and Hygiene Collective Statement

Written interview with “Friends of the human rights to water and sanitation” 

As part of the campaign, we were happy to be interviewed by the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. In the interview we explain how Simavi contributes to the development of the rights at international level, and how we have experienced working on the implementation 

Read the full interview

Training module on Gender, Inclusion and Advocacy for the Watershed Project in Bangladesh 

As recalled by the Special Rapporteur:

policies and special measures need to be adopted to tackle gender inequalities in practice and strengthen women’s voice and participation”.

As part of our Watershed programme, our local partner Gender and Water Alliance Bangladesh developed a training module on gender, inclusion and advocacy to among others support CSO members with engaging in a policy consultation process in order integrate gender and social inclusion aspects in policy and laws. The training module was adapted to the situation in Bhola, Bangladesh, but can be re-adapted for other locations.

Training module on Gender, Inclusion and Advocacy


Watershed – Empowering CitizensWomen voices for water in Nanyuki, Kenya

The Special Rapporteur recommends that States

“promote gender equality, through intersectional policies, considering that gender-based inequalities related to water and sanitation are exacerbated when they are coupled with other grounds of discrimination and disadvantages”.

At Simavi, we see that the human rights to water and sanitation for all can only be achieved when all citizens – including women and people living with disabilities – contribute to policy development and implementation. In this video from Nanyuki, Kenya, women participation yields results: now they know how to advocate for improved service delivery and water resource management.


Simavi’s Menstrual Health Training Manual 

The Special Rapporteur states in his report on gender equality and the human rights to water and sanitation, that:

practices and beliefs are different in every culture, but generally menstruation is considered to be something unclean or impure and contact between men and women during menstruation is viewed as something that should be avoided.” 

To address such issues, together with our partners, we work with different actors to raise awareness on menstrual health and provide training, technical advice and organize workshops on the topic. Have a look at our training manual, continuously updated, which addresses issues surrounding norms and gender roles, menstrual health, improving menstrual hygiene, and sexual and reproductive health

Training Manual Menstrual Health


Mkaji: WASH in health care facilities

Water, sanitation and hygiene needs are critical to prevent high maternal and newborn mortality rates, as highlighted by the Special Rapporteur in his report. 

A way to improve maternal and newborn mortality rates is to work on access to WASH in healthcare facilities. This can help improve maternal health, especially when infrastructure is complemented with capacity building interventions, targeting also health care facility staff and members of the surrounding rural communities.

An example of this approach comes from our Mkaji programme, implemented in Tanzania. Simavi thereby addresses the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation to increase collaboration between entities operating in the WASH sector and those operating in other sectors, including the health sector. 

Factsheet on the approach

Implementing the menstrual health circular in Bangladesh through the Ritu programme

“A lack of adequate facilities in public spaces often leads women and girls to avoid the public and both work and school life, particularly during menstruation, when they live with disabilities or suffer from incontinence. States must also ensure that schools have the necessary infrastructure for girls and female teachers to manage their menstruation.”  – Special Rapporteur Léo Heller on Menstrual Health

Menstrual health is one of our five expertise areas at Simavi. Through our programmes we address the importance of menstrual health-friendly facilities combined with awareness raising on different issues surrounding menstrual health

As part of the Ritu programme in Bangladesh, a multi-sectoral MHM Platform was formed in 2016 to push the national menstrual health agenda. The platform is since involved in advocacy efforts on various MH-related issues in the country. Among others, it formulated recommendations on the national MHM strategy at the request of the Policy Support Branch of the Ministry of Local Government, and the National Curriculum Textbook Board accepted the Platform’s recommendations on MH topics that could be included in the school curriculum. 

The Government also adopted a circular on menstrual health in 2015, which is used by our local partners to motivate schools to improve MH friendly WASH systemand maintenance, as they were not familiar with the circular. This position paper on menstrual health in schools informs on the situation in Bangladesh in 2018, and proposes a way forward which was addressed in the Ritu programme.

Position Paper Ritu

The Study Protocol can be read, along with a paper on girls: “confidence to manage menstruation at home and  at school: findings from a cross-sectional survey of schoolgirls in rural Bangladesh”.

Paper on girls

Participation and access to information for women and socially excluded people, issues and possible solutions

Participation encompasses women’s power to influence decisions, to voice their needs, to make individual choices and to control their own lives. The lack of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities that meet women’s and girl’s needs can be largely attributed to the absence of women’s participation in decision-making and planning. – Special Rapporteur Léo Heller

Through our WASH SDG, Water Alliance International (WAI) sub-programmes, we conducted a study that looks at the dynamics of exclusion in water, sanitation and hygiene in Bangladesh, Nepal and Uganda. The results sheds light on how women feel they are influencing decision-making in the three countries.

Dynamics of Exclusion in the WASH sector

Budget tracking process: increasing participation and information for women and socially excluded people (Watershed programme). Supported by Simavi, DORP is using a budget monitoring tool with disaggregated indicators to monitor budget allocations and expenditure for women and excluded groups. The tool has proven to help increase participation and access to information for women, while at the same time providing an accountability mechanism. This document informs on the process and results so far achieved in Bhola, Bangladesh:

Budget monitoring tool, process & results abstract

Women and gender empowerment through WASH

Safe, adequate and affordable access to water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as the promotion of women’s empowerment, can serve as an entry point to ensure that women and girls can enjoy their right to have and make choices, their right to have access to opportunities and resources, and their right to control their own lives, both inside and outside the home. – Special Rapporteur Léo Heller on women empowerment

It is often assumed that participation and representation of women in Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) committees will lead to their empowerment. Therefore, in order to get a better insight into “How” participation in the WASH committees can lead to empowerment of women, Simavi performed a study to get a better insight on “If”, “How” and “Why” women’s  empowerment has taken place as a result of participation in the WASH committees or other WASH interventions. Read the findings, presented at the 40th WEDC conference and the final report on the case study: 

Final Report case study empowerment


Guiding document on gender and social inclusion in the WASH Strategy of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

“Development cooperation entities ensure that external assistance from non-governmental organisations, development agencies and the private sector comply with human rights standards and include measures to eliminate gender inequalities in access.” – Special Rapporteur Léo Heller on gender and social inclusion

Non-governmental organisations based in donor countries can support governments with advice on how to address gender and social inclusion in their programmes on water and sanitation. To support the Dutch government in its WASH programmes implemented internationally, Simavi, as part of the Watershed – Empowering Citizens consortium, prepared a guiding document on gender and social inclusion in the WASH Strategy of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The document was welcomed by the Ministry, and further shared with Dutch embassies.

Social inclusion in the WASH strategy report

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