A warm and thoughtful breakfast with the WASH ladies!


April 12th, 2019

I never thought that I would so enjoy such a charming breakfast and chit-chat with women from different corners of the world at the ‘Citywide Inclusive Sanitation Principles’ workshop in Khulna, Bangladesh. That morning, 2nd April took me by surprise! I met more than twenty beautiful faces working for the WASH sector in different capacities and roles who joined the conversation, bringing a wealth of thoughts and courage, breaking the silence.

The conversation began with Alyse from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She introduced herself by saying how everyone had childhood dreams and over the years discovered themselves  as a grown up women in diverse roles. I had no idea that the conversation would be so interesting. A range of inspiring characters appeared, including the world class political leader who influenced the idiom – the sky’s the limit!

Many women referred to their father as their dream icon. As an engineer, a quick mental calculation told me that around 40% mentioned that they wanted to be like their ‘fathers’. They portrayed their fathers as independent individuals, change makers, decision makers, or charismatic characters from their own perspectives and context, explaining why they wanted to follow their footsteps.

I was surprised not to hear a single story from a woman wanting to follow in her mother’s footsteps and asked myself why. Perhaps the traditional role of a mother doesn’t appeal to us – to be a blind follower rather than the glorious ‘father figure’, perhaps we were more attracted  to be an ‘achiever’ in our life.  This is just my assumption, I really don’t have the answer.

Their enlightening stories continued, reflecting their lifestyle and work and I was mesmerised listening to them. They shared their aspirations and experiences along with their learning curves. The journey of one woman really touched me. She became a councillor, and as the wife of an official of the same municipality, overcame stereotyping and social stigma.

Equal sharing of inherited property emerged as one of the critical issues for women’s empowerment, coupled with the state’s role in it. No one raised issues such as excessive workload, the capacity gap, extra support required to perform better and there were literally no complaints or frustrations. I personally knew that at least three of the participants are single mothers as well as performing very well in their professional and personal life. It made me proud seeing that all are making ‘efforts’ in a real sense, not ‘excuses’.

While witnessing the inspiring stories, I recalled the time back in 1998 when I joined ITN-BUET as a Technology Specialist. At that time, the engineering curriculum contained neither low-cost water supply and sanitation technology nor gender aspects. The first formal effort was made in the book, “Water Supply & Sanitation Rural and Low Income Urban Communities” by Professor Feroze Ahmed and Prof Mujibur Rahman.  They introduced a light touch on gender awareness in Chapter 4 with deliberate effort, and with support from a Dutch woman, Ineka Vann Hoff from IHE Delft. I’m indebted to her for landing the first blow of gender thoughts on me.

I have been working in the WASH sector for over twenty years. I have found myself talking about sh*t in front of hundreds of men, with a feeling of isolation on many occasions for many years. This scenario has changed over the years. Women everywhere are taking over leadership positions, even though globally amongst the total number of WASH professionals they don’t exceed 10% yet. We should encourage more girls in this sector and at the same time, girls should be able to carve their own way to create a brighter future, utilising the available opportunities to the full. Conscious efforts to raise voices and bring thoughtful arguments, take challenges and use opportunities for professional engagement will definitely take a girl in the right direction.

I have one wish at the end! Maybe twenty years down the line, at another breakfast meeting, people will be stating their dream personalities to be their brave mother, sister or mentor from the WASH sector, the real trendsetters of the globe.

With acknowledgments to SNV, Practical Action, ITN-BUET and BMGF

8 responses to “A warm and thoughtful breakfast with the WASH ladies!”

  1. Dhiman Halder Says:

    A very wonderful and thoughtful writing indeed. Thank you Apa, I always straggle myself to think about how we transform our work in real field but sometime its bounce back as because we did not begin our “charity” from our home!! At my working place I am always dealing with Men, my beloved colleagues; In Municipality all are Men in decision making process, all local leaders/NGO practitioners are Men, a very participant are Women but interesting findings is that all Men and Women’s thinking pattern is same and its very much patriarchal not only in structure but also in ideology. On the other hand, the women WASH professionals who are interested to contribute in this sector need to know about the real practice and situation before put her name in the decision making body. I am very optimistic that we will achieve our goal but at the same time I am also very pessimistic that we will not achieve the gender equality goal because we did not yet do more for it.

  2. Hasin Says:

    You still need to go a long way!

  3. Achyut Says:

    Dear Hasin,

    Thank you for this lovely blog. I really enjoyed reading this blog and got mesmerized with my interactions with women groups earlier in my organisation when I was in the WASH sector. The issue you raised on why woman not wanting to follow in her mother’s footsteps is really touch. We have been raised in patriarchal society and still the decision makers are male in most of the occasions. It is an issue related with the generation too. In the new generation, many girls or boys will be able to proudly say that they want to follow in their mother’s footsteps too. Probably our kids can well tell that; and our works should be contributing to change the society. Hope we will be successful. Great blog again. Thanks 🙂 A

  4. Apurba Swatee Mahboob Says:

    I follow your blog regularly 🙂
    Your observation on not wanting to follow mothers as a role model is a big question. We actually do not have respect or enthusiasm for unpaid work. We do not value a work as long as it does not earn money. But this is already proven that a mother put three times more effort on child rearing than a father.
    Our mother’s precious effort will never earn any recognition if we do not monetize it. Simple capitalism. And a man will hardly become a primary caregiver if we keep looking down upon unpaid work. Sad sad truth.

  5. Nazia Parvez Sazin Says:

    Dear Author,
    What’s wrong if a daughter have her father as role model? We the women have been persuading men to see us as man, not as woman.
    Same goes for when someone gloat over women literacy increasing over males.

    Please see man/woman as a human being, stop showing your ‘one eyed perception’ toward women; that might sore our cause.

  6. Md Osman Goni Says:

    Dear Hasin Apa
    I follow your blog and enjoy reading the most!
    In blog, your point is why woman not wanting to follow in her mother’s footsteps. As a Sociological point of view, it can be said that children grow older imitating their parents from the very day of birth. Gradually they notice that father’s contribution to the family is visible and appreciated by all. Though mother’s contribution may be more, in most of the cases it remains invisible. In nature, human being wants to contribute for others. As children find that visible contribution within fathers from very childhood without the knowledge of mind, they start following their father as role model. Now word of hope that our mindsets have been changing and start appreciating the [in]visible contributions of our mothers. Let’s start a beautiful tomorrow with parents’ footsteps. Great blog again.

  7. Morshed Says:

    Thanks Hasin Apa for your beautiful writing. Actually our socoety hardly recognize our beloved mothers contribution. We only recognize monetary and visible substance. But our mothers day night contribution we hardly remember. Wish one day it will change.

  8. Marc Perez Casas Says:

    Dear Hasin. Wonderful blog!
    Glad to hear this breakfast was inspiring and a great personal experience sharing. I still remember that some men complained why women has a separate breakfast and not men… You know I am new in the country, but I see that men looks women’s participation at city council as a quota matter, and not because they are elected or most important because they have also something to say, right to decide and her opinion respond to half of population. Even with women empowered is not enought, men needs to change their mind. Maybe an additional mixed breakfast discussing women perception and barriers in WASH sector and dalily life would also be good. Lot of work to be done, but your personal professional career is a good successful example, even probably still facing many awful situations. All my best.

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