Celebrating Global Handwashing Day

A woman washing her hands with soap and water using a handwashing station, Bangladesh

Handwashing with soap and water is a first line of defence against disease, including COVID-19, and vital for good health and wellbeing (photo: World Vision Bangladesh / Prodip Kumar Sarker).

Our Future is at Hand - Let's Move Forward Together!

Global Handwashing Day is Friday, 15 October, with the theme of “Our Future is at Hand – Let’s Move Forward Together!” It calls for coordinated action towards universal access to hand hygiene, as a first line of defence against disease, including COVID-19, and essential for the promotion of public health and wellbeing.

It is also the United Nations International Day of Rural Women, with the theme, “Rural Women Cultivating Good Food for All.” 

Women and girls have been disadvantaged throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a problem exacerbated in rural areas. Rural women, who represent a quarter of the world’s population, play crucial roles in agriculture, food security and nutrition, as well as the health and wellbeing of families and communities. Even as their unpaid care and domestic work increased, they've been at the forefront of pandemic responses worldwide.

The COVID-19 pandemic, along with climate and environmental crises, has also compounded water and food insecurity in many parts of the world. Approximately 2.37 billion people lacked access to adequate food in 2020 (a 20 per cent increase on 2019), and 2.3 billion lacked basic handwashing facilities at home. 

Unequal power relations between women and men, discriminatory gender norms and practices, prevalent violence against women and girls, and their disproportionate share of unpaid domestic duties continue to have detrimental consequences for women and girls, including when it comes to hygiene, health and nutrition.

Global Handwashing Day reminds us that to overcome this pandemic, we must move forward together. To truly move forward together, we need to address this inequality and empower women and girls, in all their diversities, to build a healthier and more resilient future for all. 

Sharing the unpaid domestic workload, including water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) duties, is a critical way of supporting women's empowerment, while also maximising the health and hygiene benefits for the whole family and wider community.

To mark this important date, we’re celebrating handwashing heroes and WASH champions in rural communities - women, men, boys and girls - who are helping to keep their communities healthy and safe, now and beyond COVID-19.

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Hadassah - a young handwashing advocate in Papua New Guinea

Haddasah showing a group of children how to construct a tippy tap

Since Hadassah learnt about the importance of good hand hygiene and how to make a tippy tap - a cheap and simple, foot-operated handwashing device - through hygiene awareness sessions held in her community and school by World Vision, she's been teaching other children how to make tippy taps and promoting good hand hygiene practices in her community.

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Francisca - a water user group chief in Timor-Leste

Francisca fixing a water pipeFrancisca, a mother of seven who runs a small kiosk from her home in Liquica municipality, Timor-Leste, is also the chief of her community's water user group.

Francisca was chosen for this leadership position by her community after gender dialogue sessions run by Grupu Feto Foinsa’e Timor-Leste in partnership with WaterAid.

Today, Francisca is a role model in her community. She has acquired technical skills, taken up leadership opportunities and is helping other women to do the same.

 Ovini - a teacher and tippy tap maker in Fiji

Ovini Nawalu using a tippy tap at Namuniwaqa Village School

Ovini Nawalu, a teacher and WASH Officer at  Namuniwaqa Village School in Fiji, where he has taught for eight years, installed three tippy taps at the school after attending Habitat for Humanity training with 21 other teachers and managers from six schools in Ra province.

Water scarcity is an ongoing issue for many rural schools in Fiji, including Namuniwaqa. The tippy taps are reminding pupils of the need to practice handwashing and helping to conserve water.

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Dun Yien - a village chief and sanitation champion in Cambodia

Mr. Dun Yien, Snay Phleung Village Chief holding COVID-19 informational flyersAs Village Chief for 18 years, Dun Yien has long been a champion for the welfare of his community in Snay Phleung, in the Cambodian province of Prey Veng. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the 65-year-old father of four rose to the challenge.

Becoming a Sanitation Champion with iDE, Mr. Yien set up a clear plan to inform all households about COVID-19 prevention and vaccination, personally visiting households to discuss the topic and distribute informational leaflets endorsed by the Cambodian Ministry of Health.

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Rainbow Disability Theatre - promoting hand hygiene through song

Members of Rainbow Disability Theatre performing to an outdoor audience in VanuatuRainbow Disability Theatre have been promoting the importance of good hand hygiene far and wide in Vanuatu through the universal language of music and theatre, in partnership with World Vision Vanuatu and Wan Smolbag Theatre.

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Chomsy - Deputy Head Atsaphone District Health Office, Lao PDR

Chomsy Ngamvilay standing by the gateway to Atsaphone District Health OfficeChomsy Ngamvilay has been working in the health sector, promoting sanitation and hygiene, for almost 34 years.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has contributed to curbing the spread of the virus in her community through educational campaigns with a specific focus on gender responsive strategies.

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H.E. Dechen Wangmo - Bhutan's Minister of Health

H.E. Dechen Wangmo sitting behind her desk with her laptop for the interviewAccording to an assessment by the World Health Organisation, Bhutan is the only country in the South Asia region to avoid disruption to routine health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bhutan's successful COVID-19 response has been largely attributed to the tireless efforts of H.E. Dechen Wangmo, Minister of Health and President of the 74th World Health Assembly, alongside Bhutan's dedicated healthcare workers.

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Deepak - a sanitation worker in Transport Nagar, India

Deepak and another man making repairs to a handwashing station

After partnering with the Single Window Forum (SWF) to help improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in 17 wards in Jaipur, men and boys representing Slum Development Committees and Youth Forums wanted to do more.

Deepak, a sanitation worker from Ward 67, Transport Nagar, was one. He and a group of 95 others first organised WASH educational sessions for men and boys across 25 settlements. Then, alongside SWF committee members, installed six foot-operated, public handwashing stations.

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Ms. Gulzari - a WASH role model in Buner district, Pakistan

Women from Dandi Kot village in Buner district, Pakistan, carrying water vessels on their headsMs. Gulzari first joined the women-Inclusive WASH Jirgas (IWJ) to create a better future for her children. Learning about personal and domestic hygiene and water quality, she realised the source she collected the family's water from daily posed health risks. Given their limited income, Ms. Gulzari decided to sell her dowry to fund a hand pump for the home.

Today, she is a valued member of the IWJ who regularly attends and contributes advice, and many women now look to follow her lead in accessing safely managed WASH.

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WASH Club students leading by example in rural Solomon Islands

WASH Club students from a school in western Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands with their hands upIn western Guadalcanal province, a rural area of Solomon Islands, some 6,000 students who participate in the New Times New Targets project are actively promoting positive water, sanitation and hygiene messages and practices in their homes and communities, with great success.

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