Women’s participation in the WASH sector is essential. Women and girls are responsible for the management and collect water. Thus, women and girls understand the importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene for their family’s well-being. Chanthet Sokhadeva, the Deputy Director of the Department of Rural Health Care of the Ministry of Rural Development, points out that women and girls mainly perform water collection.
She also adds that women and girls around the world spend around 200 million hours collecting water. In addition, Sokhadeva says that a lack of hygiene impacts women and girls in many ways, including menstrual hygienic practice and safety from violence and harassment. “Women’s participation is important to promote gender equality and address issues related to a lack of water, sanitation, and hygiene for women,” she says.
Even though women play essential roles in the WASH sector, women’s participation remains limited. Sokhadeva observes that women are underrepresented at both technical and leadership levels.
A lack of knowledge on WASH and the importance of engagement in the sector discourages women from participating in the WASH sector. Sokhadeva says that the WASH sector requires technical skills and fieldwork. She adds that not many women can travel to communities because of safety reasons. She observes that fewer students, especially women, pursue higher education on subjects related to WASH.
Sokhadeva says that women in leadership positions in the WASH sector remain low. Unpaid care work responsibility is a challenge for women to take leadership positions. “Women do not want to take complicated tasks because they are responsible for taking care of their children,” she says. “Women stay home rather than work outside because they don’t want to stay away from family,” she adds.
Chanthet Sokhadeva sees the opportunity for women in the WASH sector
Pursuing higher education is Sokhadeva’s goal. She completed her master’s degree in public health in Australia after obtaining two bachelor’s degrees in Phnom Penh. Sokhadeva chose public health major for her master’s degree because she wanted to improve the health and well-being of Cambodians. She began her work at the Department of Rural Health Care in 2016, right after her master’s degree graduation.
Sokhadeva also shares that the opportunity to develop herself in the WASH sector motivates her to continue working on water, sanitation, and hygiene. She was promoted to be the deputy director in 2019. “Water, sanitation, and hygiene is a delightful job for me. I want to develop community so that community can access clean water and latrine,” she says.
Sokhadeva has worked with national and sub-national authorities and other development partners to promote water, sanitation, and hygiene. She has learned by heart how WASH impacts people’s well-being in the rural area. At the workplace, Sokhadeva is responsible for manage the data on water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Although she receives support from her family to work in the WASH sector, they worry about her safety when visiting the community. “My challenge is that I visit the community with male colleagues because women do not want to go to the field,” she says. “My family does not want me to visit the community more frequently because they are concern about my safety,” she adds.
What should be done to improve women’s and girls’ participation in the WASH sector
Sokhadeva sees that fewer women study subjects related to WASH at university. She encourages women and girls to pursue courses concerning the sector. “We need to support women to study subjects related to WASH, such as providing scholarships or internships,” she says. “When women have the opportunity to intern, they can build their confidence to work in the sector,” she adds.
Promoting women and girls’ participation in the sector requires more time and engagement of women. Sokhadeva says that there is some progress in promoting women’s participation.
Sokhadeva notes that promoting gender equality at the workplace is vital to increase women’s participation. Enhancing knowledge on gender equality and equal opportunity in the WASH sector will promote women’s and girls’ participation. “The WASH sector is not for only men or women,” she says. “Women can do anything that men can do,” she adds.
This article is part of the HerRoles Campaign, co-organized by the WaterAid Cambodia and Next Women Generation. HerRoles Campaign aims to raise public awareness of women’s roles and leadership in the WASH sector in Cambodia.