WATERAID: Celebrating four bold women who are making water work

Sanou , women's group leader in her community

Whether village chief or pump mechanic, community organiser or hygiene promoter, meet the women who are leading their communities towards a safer, cleaner future.

Did you know that, when paid and unpaid work are combined, women in developing countries work more than men? You’ll almost certainly know that, despite this, women are paid less for their work – sometimes dramatically so. Care and domestic work (like making long, daily walks for clean water) often goes unpaid and unrewarded. Social inequalities mean that, despite progress in the past century, there's a still a huge gap between what men and women earn.

When women are able to participate in politics and the economy, communities and countries can reach their potential. We're lucky to work with women who prove this, devoting their working lives to making water and toilets a reality for everyone.

1. Sanou, Women's Group Leader

Sanou, a community organiser in Bagassi, Burkina Faso, is one of those women. "It is said that poverty has a female face," she explains. "Very often, women are at home, especially in the villages. It’s the man who goes out."

Sanou set up 'Dofinsa', a women's association that maintains toilets in busy areas, like the market, as well as producing soap and shea butter to earn extra income. The women also spread awareness of better hygiene and toilets around their communities. Next, Sanou wants to mobilise the group to campaign for reforestation and fight against female genital mutilation.

She says that 'Dofinsa' has empowered the women to take positive action: "In our association, the majority of us are illiterate but it doesn’t prevent us from doing the work. We talk and exchange ideas, we advise each other, and for me this is the blooming of women."

2. Pauline the Hygiene Promoter

Pauline is taking the campaign for better hygiene and toilets to a more urban part of Burkina Faso, the community of Zongo.

“Life here is not easy," Pauline says. "It requires prudence, especially now that I’m widowed.” Although she is raising her children alone, Pauline has committed herself to helping her community to live cleaner, healthier lives through teaching good hygiene, and helping them get access to decent toilets at home.

“What gives me joy is the fact that it helps people to get latrines, to fight against dirtiness and diseases and to create good living conditions for their families."

The key to her success? “In everything," Pauline tells us, "it is necessary to understand people and be humble.”

3. Ludes, the town chief

Sanou and Pauline are taking a grassroots approach to improving their communities – Ludes, as the chief of a town called England in central Malawi, is able to use her power to make change happen.

She describes the challenges her people faced when she first became chief of the town, 15 years ago: "Because for six months the river dries out, even to do gardening along the river was difficult."

Ludes presided over the building of a new borehole, and now England's vegetable gardens are rich with pumpkins, nuts and mustard seeds all year round thanks to the new supply of water. Brickmakers have been able to build new houses – and the Englanders living in them have more disposable income to buy the basics.

This progress is a source of pride. "In my heart I feel happy even when I sleep," the chief says. "I sleep in peace, because I know things are happy in my community."

Photo Credit: 
WaterAid/Basile Ouedraogo