Women spearhead sanitation efforts in Cambodia

Hout Sokchea, iDE sanitation champion, explaining the benefits of toilet ownership to a woman

“Women know women better than men do,” says Hout Sokchea. (photo: iDE)

“Women know women better than men do,” says Hout Sokchea. She is explaining the need for female sanitation promoters in Cambodia’s rural villages, where women often drive household decisions, including buying toilets.

Sokchea, 28, is one of 1,457 sanitation champions working with Water for Women partner in Cambodia, iDE, to promote health, education, sanitation and hygiene in villages. To encourage toilet ownership, she seeks out the women of the household.

“Women need to support women,” she says, noting the health and safety benefits of toilets for women and the wider family, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When she took on the role, she set her sights on making her village Open Defecation Free (ODF) within a year. Sokchea supported five of the village’s most vulnerable low-income households to own their first toilets. But her progress slowed recently, with several families going without. Sokchea knew some were among the poorest in the village and could not afford a toilet.

iDE worked with Sokchea to enhance her skills in sanitation and hygiene promotion, so that she could help these families. Sokchea developed sanitation promotion strategies, made connections with a local latrine supplier, and worked with households to overcome impediments to buying toilets.

Sokchea ensured those who were eligible for partial discounts on toilets from iDE knew of their entitlement, and for those who were not, she helped find other ways to lessen the purchasing burden, such as payment installment plans, applying for local government subsidies, and do-it-yourself installation.

Thanks to Sokchea and her fellow sanitation champions, 1,000 villages in iDE’s operating area have been declared ODF since July 2018.

The United Nations World Toilet Day on 19 November aims to inspire action to tackle the global sanitation crisis. Some 3.6 billion people worldwide live without safely managed sanitation, and around 494 million people still practice open defecation. 

Improving sanitation is a must in the face of accelerating climate change. Flood, drought, and rising sea levels threaten sanitation systems – from toilets to septic tanks to treatment plants. Flooding can contaminate drinking water wells, damage toilets and spread human waste into communities and food crops, causing deadly and chronic diseases.

Sustainable sanitation, alongside clean water and handwashing facilities, will boost health security and stop the spread of deadly infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, cholera and typhoid. It is essential to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 - clean water and sanitation for all, and to 16 other goals under the 2030 Agenda.

Water for Women partners with iDE to deliver the WASH-SUP3 – Cambodia water, sanitation and hygiene scale up program to reach communities in six provinces of Cambodia, including Svay Rieng, Kandal, Prey Veng, Kampong Thom, Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey.

Water for Women is the Australian government's flagship WASH program and is being delivered as part of Australia's aid program over five years, from 2018 to 2022. Through Water for Women, Australia is investing AUD118.9m to deliver 33 water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects and research initiatives, which aim to directly benefit 2.9 million people in 15 countries across South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific.


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