Despite the fact that Nepal has declared water and sanitation a basic human right in Article 16 of the interim constitution (rights regarding environment and health), many communities still lack access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Women around the country are raising awareness of the human right to water and sanitation and are currently at the forefront of campaigns to create safer living conditions within their communities.
However, very few people in Nepal know that water and sanitation is a constitutional right, and there is still a need to promote awareness of the rights established in Article 16 in order to bring about change on both a local and national level. The campaigners say the success for this hinges on the involvement of women in leadership and in high-level decision making processes to do with water and sanitation throughout the country.
Many women are already making huge achievements in their communities. Sita Magar from Dharan fought to get access to the water supply in her local squatter’s settlement. When she first went to the municipality her request to establish a water connection within the community was rejected and she was told it was not the policy. She then organised a three-day demonstration and a mass meeting to which the authorities of the municipality Water Supply Corporation and local organisers attended. Their demand for the human right to water and sanitation was ultimately upheld when the municipality granted to connect the water supply to local houses within the slum.
The cooperative movement in Thecho and the cleaning campaign in Tahari are other examples of women engaging in the transformation of their local area through collective action. In Thecho, a group of women started a non-profit cooperative to provide loans for people to construct toilets in their community and within the first year they were responsible for the construction of more than one hundred toilets. Similarly, a collective of women in Tahari are running a weekly cleaning campaign to maintain, repair and clean toilets in their area. The women state that they are committed to upholding and sustaining the Open Defecation Free (ODF) declaration in their communities.
These women, along with countless others, are proving themselves to be key actors in the Nepalese water and sanitation movement. However, much is left to be done in order to engage others in demanding their human right to water and sanitation in Nepal and to bring about positive change in WASH throughout the country.