WSSCC foreword: Putting people at the centre

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are two years old, and already we are seeing incredible progress towards the 2030 agenda. Countries around the world are developing national plans to respond to the SDGs and sharing successes and lessons with others, indicating a collective spirit to transform the world. Partnerships are forming between government, international entities, private sector, academia and civil society… there seems to be a collective message: We cannot do it alone. Activists, students, influencers and citizens are working together, leading campaigns and using their voices to speak out on issues that matter to them; health, education, gender equality, climate change and peace, just to name a few. Collective action is everywhere.

Rolf Luyendijk, Executive Director, WSSCC (portrait)

Rolf Luyendijk
Executive Director

Amidst the progress, there is still work to be done. SDG 6 (on Water and Sanitation) is one of these areas. 4.5 billion people globally still lack safely managed sanitation, and poor hygiene practices have devastating effects on individual health and well-being, on malnutrition and child-mortality and contribute to growing societal concerns around disease outbreaks.

Women, girls and people in vulnerable situations (SDG 6.2) are of particular concern. Imagine the young girl who menstruates for the first time at age 12. She has no prior information about her period as, contrary to common beliefs, in many countries fewer than half of the girls have been told about menstruation from their mothers before menarche. The gendered societal norms in her community indicate that she is impure and cannot participate in certain social gatherings; that she should not eat or touch certain foods; that she cannot cook or help in the kitchen or should not bathe for a week because of the mistaken belief that washing while menstruating increases the risk of infertility. Imagine the elderly woman who works in a rural market selling her vegetables. She must stay in her stall to make money each day, and yet the market has no facilities, no toilets. Sometimes she stops drinking water, despite the heat, so she will not have to use the toilet.

We cannot talk about changing policies and practices without keeping people in mind, without consulting them, without understanding their needs and without understanding prevailing beliefs and practices. The 2030 Agenda calls us all to think differently, to act differently and to partner differently. The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and Essity formed a partnership in 2014 in order to do just this. Putting hygiene and health at the centre of the conversation means more emphasis on forgotten and taboo topics; it opens up possibilities for change that reaches far beyond just individuals, but to society as a whole. Hygiene is only the beginning.