System Strengthening: resetting local WASH governance in rural Nepal

A standing woman pours water into the hands of a seated woman washing her hands as part of a demonstration to a circle of people sitting on a hilltop

Diverse, cohesive and socially inclusive communities are naturally more resilient, including to shocks from a changing climate and they are more likely to have effective and sustainable outcomes in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).


In Nepal, WASH activities are coordinated and monitored by WASH-CC members in their designated municipalities.


This is the story of one municipality and its journey to a more diverse, cohesive and effective WASH-CC. With support from the Australian Government, our partner SNV is working to embed gender and social inclusion through WASH in rural communities Nepal through their Water for Women project, Beyond the Finish Line.


This story begins in 2019, when Thantikandh Rural Municipality Chair, Mr. Dhir Bahadur Shahi who, with our partner, SNV embarked on a project to reinvigorate the municipality’s WASH-CC.


One and half years later, Thantikandh’s WASH-CC is made up of a powerhouse membership, fully representative of the diverse community of 20,000 people it represents. The leadership and membership have become a role model for other municipalities.


Everybody needs access to safe water, but when decisions on WASH infrastructure and management are being made for a diverse community by a limited group of people, the voices and needs of others within that community are not being heard, and people are inevitably left behind.


Systems are made up of people


As WASH-CC Chair, Mr. Shahi has consistently pushed for diversity and inclusivity among the members. Mr. Shahi co-leads the WASH-CC with Ms. Susmita Singh, the team’s Vice-Chair. Ms. Singh also happens to be the Chair of the Disability Coordination Committee and the Monitoring Committee. She has been key in raising the visibility of women and people with disabilities in the WASH-CC.


Today’s Thantikandh WASH-CC comprises a team of different identities and representative voices; by caste, gender, and physical abilities. Of the 11-member team, four are women and seven are men. Four members belong to the Dalit caste, and two members are people with a disability.


Strengthening capacities to lead


To enhance the leadership skills of the newly formed WASH-CC, SNV trained WASH-CC members to engage in Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI)-informed action planning and self-reflection. Through these trainings, WASH-CC members learnt to put participatory and meaningful methods of decision-making and implementation in practice.


"Previously, we had little knowledge about the particular WASH needs of people with disabilities and women. The Disability Inclusive Development (DID) training, the inclusive WASH assessment, and several activities organised by the... project sensitised us." said Mr. Shahi. "This motivated us to include people with disabilities and women in the WASH-CC; at the rural municipality and ward levels."


Strengthening capacities to participate


Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) have long been excluded from mainstream WASH governance and planning processes. This exclusion has contributed to DPOs’ disenfranchisement. It also kept people with disabilities from fully enjoying their right to water and sanitation.


SNV’s work has facilitated the reactivation of DPOs in districts and their registration as a network. DPO groups were also formed at rural municipality and ward levels. Today, the participation of at least one person with disability in all WASH-CC leadership groups at rural municipality and district levels is being practised.


Cleaning up the environment, improving lives


By early 2020, an 11-member strong task force developed a WASH Behavioural Change Communication (BCC) strategy. The strategy was complemented by the introduction of a budget line in the rural municipality - first in Thantikandh’s history.


Six months after, significant improvements in the hygienic use of toilets was discovered by local monitoring efforts. To keep the momentum going, the rural municipality is setting its sights on building inclusive handwashing stations across all government institutions, schools, and health care facilities.


Beyond toilets, the WASH-CC has been exploring ways to improve solid waste management and environmental cleanliness. At the WASH-CC’s advice, the municipality approved the installation of locally made eco-friendly wastebins. These bins are being set-up in over 100 public spaces. Demand for wastebins has created jobs for local artisans, including Dalit families.


Made out of bamboo and organised for replacement every six months, six Dalit families and two from other communities are making NPR 500 per wastebin (US$ 4.23). Sanitation workers have been recruited for a month’s pay of NPR 8,000 (US$ 67.64). So far, 11 Dalits (three women and eight men), and seven from other ethnic groups (two women and five men) have been recruited.


In December 2020, the municipality endorsed the WASH-CC advice to set up a help desk for the WASH needs of people with disabilities.


Enabling legal frameworks


For Thantikandh’s leaders, WASH access and services for everyone, everywhere also means ‘by everyone.’ This is why GESI approaches have been key in the municipality’s design for change within leadership formations. 


At the same time, inclusive national policies have served as important foundations for these achievements to be realised. Beyond the WASH Sector Development Plan 2016-2030, the Ministry of Urban Development’s GESI Operation Guidelines 2013 provides a legal framework to resource gender and social inclusion activities in development programmes.


Further, the Local Government Operation Act 2017 stipulates that local decision-making bodies must have at least two women and two people with disabilities within local government-led formations. The Disability Rights Act 2017, supplemented by the Disability Regulation Act 2020, provides further directives for local governments to allocate budgets for inclusive development. These legal frameworks provide guidance and bases for development priorities, and supportive resources going forward.


Today, Thantikandh's WASH-CC is going from strength to strength - continuing to widen opportunities for more residents to participate in WASH governance and services provision, backed by strong and inclusive government policies. The future looks bright for this rural community!




This story was originally published by SNV on their website and has been edited by Water for Women.

For more information, contact: Min Prasad Basnet, WASH Advisor in Nepal by email.


Photo: Local WASH-CC member demonstrates the difference between hands washed with water only, and water with soap during a BCC session in Thantikandh rural municipality (Dan Bahadur Kathayat/ Everest Club)


The value of water is about much more than its price – in communities, households, schools and workplaces, water means health, hygiene, dignity, productivity and more.


Throughout March, for International Women's Day and World Water Day, we are celebrating the value of women and the value of water. Both are critical to building healthy and climate-resilient communities. 


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