How to Underpin Inclusivity in Achieving SDGs in the Face of Covid-19 & Climate Change

By Maria Bystedt

Maria Bystedt is Strategy Lead at H&M Foundation, a non-profit foundation, privately funded by the Stefan Persson family, founders and main owners of the H&M Group, working to fast-track the achievements of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, to safeguard humanity and the planet.

STOCKHOLM (IDN) — People who have been marginalised—whether that’s women and girls, those living in extreme poverty, people living with disabilities or people who belong to minority ethnic or religious groups—can face disproportionate hardship in their lives. When the pandemic hit, this gap only widened. Since 2013, the H&M Foundation has supported work with people who have been marginalised. One focus has been improving access to clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene—the UN’s 6th Sustainable Development Goal. It is an essential access to these facilities that meets the need for the whole community, and no one is left behind.

Globally, one in ten people have no clean water close to home, and almost 3 billion people have been facing Covid-19 without being able to wash their hands. Climate change is making things even harder – more frequent and extreme flooding is polluting fragile water sources and longer droughts are drying up springs.

But even where services are installed; the rights of people who have been marginalised are often overlooked.

People with disabilities and older people can be excluded from water points and toilets if they can’t easily access them, and women’s safety and privacy are often ignored in service design. People might be unable to access facilities if they are discriminated against or face stigma from others, while negative social attitudes and barriers can have a big impact on people’s exclusion.

For example, attitudes towards people with specific health conditions or disabilities can mean that they are excluded from touching waterpoints or communal facilities. Or people from specific caste or religious groups may be excluded from sharing services that others access.  

What needs to change? 

Addressing the inequalities faced by disadvantaged groups requires tailored solutions that take account of people’s daily realities.

Improving access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene for people that have been marginalised requires their inclusion to be considered during decision-making processes. When this happens, the solutions better meet everyone’s needs, preserve everyone’s rights, and are more likely to be sustainable. 

Projects like SusWASH, WaterAid’s sustainable WASH programme in partnership with the H&M Foundation, work to ensure that people are not marginalised, and everyone can access water and sanitation services continuously and with dignity.

Working with NGOs like WaterAid as well as local partners, we identify who is being left behind and the barriers they face.

In Pakistan many girls face multiple challenges around menstrual health such as a lack of menstrual hygiene materials and female-friendly facilities; unhygienic or unsafe facilities; lack of knowledge; and exclusion from daily activities.

To address this, questions about menstrual hygiene and health are now included as part of an Annual School Survey carried out by the Government of Sindh. This helps track the number of schools who don’t have proper facilities, and investment can then be directly targeted to the right areas.

Change comes from diversity within leadership and decision-making and empowering those impacted to tell their stories.

In Kampong Chhnang Province, Cambodia, WaterAid and the H&M Foundation have been working with local NGOs and communities to address this. Representatives from diverse groups such as older people, people with chronic illnesses and people living in flood-prone areas were empowered to document their concerns.

These stories were shared with local authorities and service providers at a workshop and published by government stakeholders and partners. A documentary was also aired on national television.

This programme has seen significant results, with the government actively supporting people who have been excluded during the pandemic and the community representatives participating in regular public forums to share their suggestions. Plans are now underway for building accessible hand pumps in remote villages and to install household toilets in several districts.

Sustainability is also important. If WASH facilities are inclusive, but not sustainable, the inclusivity fails to matter.

For example, in Kampala, Uganda, the local authority is working to improve access to toilets in public schools by phasing out pit latrines and moving to flushing water toilets. But water bills are expensive and, in some schools, flushing toilets were installed but proved too expensive to maintain so were closed, impacting girls and students with disabilities.

WaterAid and the H&M Foundation partnered with the KCCA (Kampala Capital City Authority) to find a more sustainable solution: a new technology called the Single Flush Female Friendly Toilet which means flushing is done at scheduled intervals.

The facility also has a shower room connected to an incinerator so female students can now wash and manage their menstrual cycle privately and hygienically and students living with a disability can access the toilets independently. The school water bills have now decreased and KCCA is scaling up the design of The Single Flush Toilet in more schools.

Rehem Abigaba, from Natete Muslim School, said: “Before we got this new toilet, the old toilet was a shame… and it was not easy to access. The new toilet is easy to clean. It is well aerated and connected to the water supply for hand washing and bathing. If I’m on my period, it is very easy for me to dispose of used sanitary pads because we have an incinerator connected to the shower room. So, no one gets to know that I am on my period when I go to dispose of used sanitary pads.”  [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 March 2022]

Photo: 2.2 billion people around the world still lack safely managed drinking water. Credit: UN

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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