Empowering women through inclusive water, toilets and hygiene in Papua New Guinea
In Papua New Guinea (PNG) women and girls are disproportionately at risk of experiencing poverty, violence and insecurity - all challenges that can be exasperated by a lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
We have been working with our partners across seven villages in Wewak District to empower women to address these concerns through an Inclusive WASH Program that includes installing vital infrastructure, soap making initiatives and gender, equality, disability and social inclusion (GEDSI) awareness raising.
The aim of the program was to make WASH services inclusive and accessible for all members of the community. Women in the seven villages met with local women leaders and advocates to learn about issues affecting their health and livelihood, such as gender-based violence and lack of access to inclusive WASH. This meeting was made possible through a PNG based women’s network, the East Sepik Council of Women (ESCOW).
The program also included a soap making initiative. After identifying that a lack of affordable and accessible soap was often preventing households in rural communities from practicing good hygiene, the program aimed to expand local soap production to ensure soap would be available for good hygiene and provide training and opportunities for women to earn an income in the villages.
Daisy is a grandmother from Koiken village who has proudly taken part in the program. She describes how before the project women experienced daily hardships walking longer distances in search of water for household use. There was often not enough for daily uses such as bathing, dish washing, laundry and even personal hygiene.
But now we are so fortunate to have water taps installed at our yards so we are excited as it would really help and sustain our daily living.”
The project also has helped us undergo a vital life skills training and that is soap training and production. We are now able to produce different types of soap products including hair cream and tooth paste after that initial training with ESCOW leaders in partnership with Wateraid.”
Women found it more convenient in terms of accessing clean water for soap making since water taps are installed just close by. We use water to clean the equipment that we use to produce soaps locally. It then adds value to our lives economically and also improves personal hygiene and grooming too.”
Paula is a women’s representative in her village, Big Mushu, and feels the program also empowered her to speak up for women’s issues in the village. She is also an active member of ESCOW. Paula advocates strongly on women’s networking and has coordinated with the Ward Member Mr. Thomas Wange on these issues.
Through the gender-based violence trainings, Paula was able to refer two families experiencing domestic violence to relevant service providers through the referral pathways that was provided.
The cases were then resolved,” she said.
In addition to empowering local women, this program has also improved lives of men and children.
Melchior Wuren is the Officer-In-Charge of Kairuru Health Center in Wewak District, East Sepik Province.
We are able to heal common skin diseases such as rash, itchiness, white spot, grille and a new strong skin infection.”
He said that they had been struggling to cure the new disease for some time and with the introduction of the soaps that were produced through the program they are now able to do so.
But fortunately, we are able to do so and its through use of soaps produced and sold locally by few women who got initial trainings provided by ESCOW and our partner, WaterAid,” he said.
He also said that the soaps produced were sold at the healthcare facility, but that the current supply is not able to cater for increasing demands by consumers visiting the health care facilities.
We are actually selling some soap products at the health facility (HCF) but the supplies can’t cater for increasing demand here,” he added.