Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got interested in advocacy around WASH?
I am a passionate advocate for women and girls' health. I believe every woman and girl should have access to quality health care regardless of her financial status, religious beliefs, or anything else.
I started my career as a broadcaster, radio particularly. Radio gave me the platform to shape perspectives and I loved that. So I used the platform to talk about issues that affect women and girls to try to find lasting solutions through information and education. Along the way, I found myself daunted by the issues that people wanted to talk about on the radio. A lot of the issues I dealt with were around sexual reproductive health issues, rape, domestic violence etc. The issues were extremely tough, and heartbreaking.
As a teenager who had experienced challenges accessing sexual reproductive health care services, I wanted to do more than just talk about the issues: I wanted to be part of a movement that could bring a tangible change for women and girls. So, my journey as a health advocate began.
I joined WRA Nigeria because of WRA’s unique approach of engaging women at the community level to speak out and demand their rights. I want to be a voice for millions of women in communities who believe their thoughts and opinions do not count.
Why is water a major priority for women in Nigeria?
In Nigeria and around the world, WASH is significant for the delivery of quality health care and is important for the safe management of childbirth for women and children. Women, too, are demanding improved WASH in health facilities. For example, global results from White Ribbon Alliance’s What Women Want campaign, which queried nearly 1.2 million women and girls across 114 countries about their top request for quality maternal and reproductive health, revealed that access to respectful, dignified healthcare and access to WASH were the top two priorities. The demands from women and girls have helped to shape our advocacy agenda and we are currently leading advocacy efforts on WASH focused on three key areas: hand washing facilities, clean toilets in health facilities, and availability of water at health facilities for improved reproductive health services. Although the demands of women and girls are basic; in many of the remote communities where WRA Nigeria works, availability of water is a luxury.
I went to a facility and there was no water for the midwife to wash her hands. There were many times I was close to tears. – Tariah Adams at the 2019 UN General Assembly PMNCH Accountability Breakfast
Some of the women we met during the What Women Want campaign identified lack of water in health facilities as the major reason they patronized unskilled birth attendants. A woman told me, after delivery at the health facility, that she and her child suffered infections as the water around the facility was not good. Many women also testified to contacting toilet infection after visiting the health facility. Availability of water will improve dignified care, improve the comfort for women and hygiene.
The demand for WASH has increased with the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic simply echoed the demand of women and girls. We should not wait for a pandemic to remind us of WHAT WOMEN WANT.
What do organizations and leaders need to be doing to make WASH available to women and girls?
If we are to meet the SDGs goal of adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations, it will take a concerted multi-sectoral approach of improved partnership across government agencies and organizations. From our perspective, this is what needs to happen:
- Organizations must increase advocacy on WASH and leaders must recognize WASH as a priority health need for everyone, especially women and girls. Not all leaders and organizations see WASH as the health issue that it is. There is a need to increase political will around WASH and communities must be supported and empowered to demand WASH.
- We must prioritize budget advocacy for WASH. Without adequate funding, we cannot make change.
- Organizations must generate evidence around the impact of lack of WASH. This data should be segregated based on regions, states, and communities – and translated for advocacy purposes.
- Organizations must increase support to the media with stories and evidence to improve reporting around WASH.
Learn more about how gender-equitable families and health systems can improve child health.