FINISH Mondial participated in the global Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) 6 conference, where we share the best practices to improve the global sanitation sector from 31 May to 4 June 2021. We had a chance to catch up with Hajra Mukasa Comfort from Amref Health Africa and Sumeet Pawar from WASTE, who took part in the FSM6 as exhibitors.

Hajra Mukasa Comfort, is a WASH programme manager of Amref Health Africa operational in one of FINISH Mondial’s countries Uganda. She is a very dynamic FSM6 conference committee member with 15 years of experience in public health with a focus on sanitation and hygiene promotion. She is a track lead for gender, equality, and social inclusion (GESI) for sanitation service level under FSM6. She feels that the inclusion of GESI into the FSM/ circular economy is an excellent step that will lead to situations where actors can work together to improve quality and increase service delivery for customer segments that are currently underserved and will improve sustainability and scale. Excerpts from her interview….

Why is GESI a main theme under the FSM 6 conference?

Gender, equality and social inclusion challenges in sanitation normally stem right from the lack of policies to address these issues. In instances where policies are available, they are very limited to just consultation but not meaningful involvement in designing and planning for sanitation services. Including GESI as a main theme in the FSM 6 conference will enable us to explore how weak or the lack of policies to guide designing and planning for sanitation services has an impact on gender, inequalities, and exclusion in service delivery.
Poor access to appropriate clean water and sanitation is not the root cause of gender-based violence, but it can increase women’s vulnerability to harassment and violence, including sexual violence. GESI being the main theme under FSM6 enables us to show evidence on how improved sanitation planning and programming reduces the individuals’ risk to gender-based violence and sanitation and make recommendations that lead to better GESI programming.
In addition, this inclusion gives us the opportunity of drawing from a global perspective and wide range of experiences on what has worked or not worked in reducing inequalities to those who have been excluded from sanitation services such as, women, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly.

This exclusion may be based on a wide range of factors, including: social, economic, financial, or technological, and may be reinforced through societal norms or institutionalised mechanisms, and therefore, what better opportunity than FSM 6 to explore all forms of exclusion?

Though a critical component of reaching SDG 6.2 is improving access to and increasing the usage of comprehensively designed sanitation services by those who have been repeatedly excluded. Commonly, designs or programmes are decided by the implementers without an assessment of the social and demographic characteristics of the population of consumers who benefit from a sanitation service. Consequently, these designs are not sensitive to women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. For that matter, open defecation continues in such communities even with the availability of sanitation facilities.

Additional focus is required on gender balance and representation. In many places, women and girls are not given enough opportunities to actively participate and contribute as equally important stakeholders, decision-makers, or even consumers.

However, we are cognisant of the fact that there are organisations, governments, and societies out there that have managed to work their way out of the above problem. Therefore, including GESI as the main theme under FSM 6 offers the perfect opportunity to not only learn but recognise the efforts of such entities.

What do you see as some pros/cons of major conferences like FSM 6 going virtual?
Pros:
More people can attend the conference as it reduces the costs of participation.
Availability of reference material at the click of a button.
A large expanse of the virtual audience to access the materials.
There is more time for posters/ materials to be viewed thus fostering a better appreciation of the subject matter.
Cons:
Participants miss out on physical networking.
Participants may be easily distracted and only have intermittent learning experiences.
The conference may attract fewer participants. If a participant’s motivation to participate included travel, then such a participant would opt-out.
It may be very difficult to coordinate sessions virtually, sometimes.

What do you want WASH practitioners to know about the intersection of GESI and FSM/circular economy?

As the world talks and thinks circular economy, it is very important for all of us to remember that a circular economy is only possible if the planning, budgeting, implantation, monitoring, and evaluation of efforts are people-centered.
Very commonly, designs or programmes are decided upon by the implementers without an assessment of the social and demographic characteristics of the population of consumers who benefit from a sanitation service. Consequently, these designs are not sensitive to women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
We all need to move away from looking at the communities we work with as beneficiaries but rather view them as partners that we meaningfully involve in all the stages that eventually yield to the circular economy.
New knowledge in some cases is indigenous knowledge that has for a long time been pushed to the side and is merely forgotten. So, meaningful inclusion will not only result in ownership (sustainability) of the realised circular economy but will in addition unlock the community’s hidden potential to realise a circular economy.
When a circular economy is community/beneficiary centered, then locally-led adaptation actions to a circular economy become more sustainable.
A circular economy requires systems thinking. In a system, all components must work together to achieve the desired outcome and thus, GESI.

‘Cross-sectoral linkages and multisectoral commitments makes FINISH Mondial an eligible participant of Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) 6 conference’

Sumeet Pawar is a Junior Adviser FSM & Circular Economy at WASTE Netherlands, which is a key partner under FINISH Mondial. Sumeet actively engages in topics related to sanitation, solid waste, and the water sector through innovations, sustainability, and circularity. He acts as a principal contact person from FINISH Mondial at the FSM6 conference. He believes that FINISH Mondial completely fits into the main themes of the FSM 6 conference. Excerpts from his interview…

1. How does FINISH Mondial align with the FSM 6 conference’s main themes?
FINISH Mondial (FM) programme builds millions of toilets in Asia & Africa and works closely with various actors in the sanitation value chain from containment, emptying, transportation & resource recovery. FM recognises that the greatest challenge faced by FSM actors is the lack of access to knowledge, networks, financing, skills, and high-quality business development support services as well as poor enabling conditions at all levels. FSM 6 conference objectives are naturally aligned with FM as we strongly believe in knowledge dissemination and sharing best practices and innovations to move towards a circular sanitation economy through multisectoral commitments. FM has a strong focus on strengthening the circular sanitation economy for a greater cross-sectoral impact on sanitation, agriculture, and renewable energy with the contribution to global climate change.

2.How has FM adapted to the virtual space? What are some pros/cons of conferences going online?
FSM 6 is one of the most dedicated platforms where people from around the world come together to discuss and disseminate knowledge on sanitation. FSM 6 offered a virtual exhibition platform to showcase the FM approach towards establishing a local circular sanitation economy in FM countries, explore FM partnership opportunities in FM countries i.e. Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Bangladesh & India.

By going virtual biggest drawback is the no personal interactions with experts around the globe. Going online sometimes can be quite tricky in developing countries with technical and connection problems. On the other hand, by going online, we can reach a large number of audiences, lower the event’s costs and easily share information digitally.

3.What sessions/speakers are you most looking forward to?
All the planned sessions are very informative and useful. As FM programme we are more focused on Track 1: Gender, Equality and Inclusive Sanitation Service Level sessions & Track 3: The Role of Sanitation and FSM Actors session to explore best practices, viable business models in the sanitation sector.

4.Who are you looking to connect with at FSM 6? Who should visit the FM exhibition?
Our target audiences are attendees and organisations working and willing to learn more about circular sanitation economy practices, who have been working in FM countries with similar ambitions, potential donors, and investors in the FM programme. We genuinely believe that collaborations bring more creative and out-of-the-box thinking to identify and develop innovative cross-sectoral linkages towards the circular sanitation economy.

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