Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

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  • depinder
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  • Depinder Kapur is a senior development professional with experience in WASH, Livelihoods and NRM.
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Hi JK : Well if WASH Knowledge is an irrelevant tiny topic, and that the issue of dominance will be solved on its own, then there is really nothing to discuss.
Depinder Kapur is a senior Development and WASH expert and is currently leading the Sanitation Capacity Building Platform of National Institute of Urban Affairs in New Delhi that is focussed on non sewered sanitation systems( scbp.niua.org). He has worked with AKRSP, SPWD, CARE(Director NRM), Oxfam(Program & Advocacy Director), WaterAid India(Country Head) and WSSCC(National Coordinator).

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  • Euphresia
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Hi Depinder.

Thanks for your valuable input; reading some of the comments make me wish to take people for a walk by their hands :-) in the day of a ‘Southern’ WASH Expert in some of these donor funded projects. Equality and Discrimination are not just opinions that humans can choose whether or not to protect. The U.N. declaration of human rights affirms that we are all born free and equal. Therefore, these are conversations that require contributors to be open minded, to replace their perceptions or experiences in the sector that white supremacy does not exist with some realism, objectivity and empathy which will in turn separate the view of the subject from emotional reactions. From my work experience addressing challenges of access to human rights like water and sanitation requires some empathy. So many experiences of white supremacy in the WASH sector have been shared in various platforms and no level of denying this can stop this agenda since decolonization of WASH sector has time and again been demonstrated (from a systemic lens) as a low hanging fruit  towards addressing most of the WASH challenges in the South towards its sustainability. The change towards decolonizing the WASH sector is here and unstoppable and the change will change the WASH sector; I believe it!

Euphresia
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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

depinder wrote: Hi JK : Well if WASH Knowledge is an irrelevant tiny topic, and that the issue of dominance will be solved on its own, then there is really nothing to discuss.


Sorry, this is not at all what I meant. I was referring to the "Wash knowledge sector" as in the currently engaged institutions and individuals. These are a few NGO thinktanks, some sector focussed NGO employees and some university departments more or less. In addition there are overarching networks like Susana. I am not trying to be too negative about it, but it all feels very much self referencing and unless we manage to break out of this bubble it is probably largely irrelevant.

In retrospect I think the eyeopening moment for me was the Gates Foundation's reinvent the toilet programme. It suddently brought in a lot of new people due to the Foundation's reach and they seemed very literally try to "reinvent the wheel" mostly oblivious to all the knowledge accumulated and discussed for years if not decades in the "Wash knowledge sector". Hence, it was plainful to see just how little relevance the sector has/had.

But we are getting a bit off-topic here 🤷‍♂️
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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Euphresia wrote: Dear Kris.

On your comment stating "...But it irks me a bit when people think superficial de-colonization would solve any of the many issues in this sector. "  I would like to confirm to you that we have northern donors who have de-colonised their operations in southern countries and their activities  are sustainable, observing equality and non-discrmination of any sort.


This is no doubt great, but I am wondering if beyond it being a nice political gesture anything has really changed?

Take Oxfam as an example: as far as I know they have moved their entire headquarters to Nairobi and are probably at the very front of attempts to "decolonize" a formerly global north organisation.

I have to admit I do not know how this is percieved from the inside of the organisation (maybe it really improved the power dynamics between northern and southern employees?), but looking from the outside I do not see any real substancial change in how the organisation operates. Yet moving operations must have come at a substancial cost both in terms of money and temporary impact on ongoing projects...
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  • Euphresia
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Hi Chaiwe.

Fantastic observations and recommendations you made.

From your statement:

( though I personally feel that the discussions about race are ill-fitting in this discussion and can be addressed elsewhere)

To avoid mis-quoting, I also want to categorically clarify/state that in all my contributions on the topic I always emphasise on the fact that the challenge is white supremacy and not white people.

Euphresia
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

I was continually navigating institutional racism or that a learning and development team responsible for over 10,000 staff with so little
diversity could only be defined as colonial.

Interesting related article:
www.thenewhumanitarian.org/opinion/first...institutional-racism
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Reflecting a bit on the reader's comments on the above article and also my own comments here, I think I need to clarify my stance a bit. This is especially because me being obviously very much male, white and from the global north.

This is to avoid being misunderstood as talking about "reverse racism" or otherwise apologizing the often very bad internal power-dynamics of international aid organisations.

My comments here and general thoughts on the matter are that trying to reform these structures from within to be less colonial is in my personal experience counter productive in the larger picture (although it might somewhat improve working conditions for employees from the global south).

As others have also alluded to, any such efforts can not solve larger power imbalances of our global society, but are likely to make these large global institutions even less efficient and likely dysfunctional.

What we really need are different structures, not "de-colonized" existing structures that continue to do a poor job at reaching their stated mission. 
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Hi Euphresia and all,

This is an important discussion to be had and I can imagine that many people might be itching in their finger tips to type but then hold back for fear of saying the wrong thing. It would be great to also hear from more people in the Global South about this. So far it's only been you, Depinder and Chaiwe. So please don't hold back everyone but do engage.

There is one thing in your post that is troubling me:

To avoid mis-quoting, I also want to categorically clarify/state that in all my contributions on the topic I always emphasise on the fact that the challenge is white supremacy and not white people.

You've said this before but it doesn't convince me as a "peace building or bridge building step" (at all).... 

I spoke about that already in my post from 2 September in this same thread (scroll up or down):

+++++++

In your speech at the 30th SuSanA meeting you mentioned "white supremacy in the sector" and said "the problem is not the white people, it's the white supremacy" (even though you try to make it sound nice, it is still confusing for a white person to hear; it's a bit like saying "the problem is not black people, it's black people's attitudes"). All the people I have ever worked with during my time in the WASH sector have been anything but racist and I could not name a single person (or even organization) where I have felt that it was "white supremacy" at play. Power issues, incompetence, wrong decisions, sexism etc. yes - but white supremacy?  Maybe it's a question of definition. I am going by the definition of white supremacy as per Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_supremacy

White supremacy or white supremacism is the belief that  white people  are superior to those of other  races  and thus should dominate them. White supremacy has roots in the now-discredited doctrine of  scientific racism  and often relies on  pseudoscientific  arguments, and was a key justification for  colonialism . It underlies a spectrum of contemporary movements including  neo-Confederates neo-Nazism  and  Christian Identity .

++++++++

What is your reaction to my point? Perhaps we define "white supremacy" differently? You seem to use the term freely whereas I see it has having a very specific distinct meaning. 

Just like this article which you linked to: 
"THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WHITE SUPREMACY CULTURE" 

In my opinion what is described there is not white supremacy but more like "male dominated culture" or "cultural differences" or "bad management styles" etc.

So perhaps Step 1 would be to understand if your usage of the term "white supremacy" is different to my understanding of the term. I think this is important.
In your argument white supremacy and issue of colonise/de-colonise go hand in hand, if I understood it right.

The term “decolonisation” pops up more often now (or maybe I just notice it more now). For example “decolonise the internet” ( https://www.goethe.de/ins/ng/en/m/kul/sup/dti.html ) and about aid ( https://blogs.bsg.ox.ac.uk/2020/09/02/we-need-a-new-way-to-think-about-aid/ )
I quote from the second article:

The call is growing to “decolonize aid” and have international aid given directly to national governments or local organisations in a way that ends the white rule of UN agencies and international NGOs. More radical campaigners want aid redefined as “reparations” for centuries of slavery and colonialism.


When I look for a definition what decolonization of knowledge means I go to Wikipedia and find this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decolonization_of_knowledge

Decolonization of knowledge (also epistemic or epistemological decolonization) is primarily an intellectual project [1]  that challenges the hegemonic Western knowledge system with its claim of universality. [2]  The project seeks to legitimize other knowledge systems and establish justice for hitherto disregarded epistemologies. [2]  These debates originated in the west with the counter culture, prominent in universities in the 1970s, which supported similar debates in  Africa Latin America , and elsewhere. [3]  Because of this project modern academic scholarship tends to give more weight to indigenous belief systems, as well as identities around race, gender, and sexuality. Critics would argue however that it has failed in many ways to challenge the dominant aspects of neoliberal ideology and the dominance of free market capitalism.

Is this what we are talking about? Maybe, maybe not. I'm happy to work on updating the Wikipedia article if someone wants to collaborate with me on that one.

I think getting our terminologies lined up and clarified would be important.

Regards,
Elisabeth
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  • Carol McCreary
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

All,

I'm enjoying the UNC Water and Health Conference enormously. All the more so because it's free.  So far, 3000 of us have registered and I hope you will as well.  I am posting in this thread to bring attention to today's plenary session in hopes discussion of this topic can continue.

https://waterandhealthconference.pathable.co/meetings/virtual/no2PrLySEKDhxTpfC   Addressing Systemic Inequalities in WaSH – It’s Me; Not You *

2020 has been a year of reflection. As we struggle to address the challenges of a global pandemic we have also been urged to rethink our own personal roles in exacerbating inequalities. We are a sector that takes pride in our efforts reach the most marginalized, prioritize the poor, and protect fundamental human rights. Inclusion, diversity, equity are hallmarks of our trade. Or are they? This plenary will be an effort at sector-wide self-reflection. An examination of how our work on WaSH may be contributing to or exacerbating systemic inequalities in the very populations we hope to support. We are not sure where this will take us, but hope that we will each walk away from the conversation with greater self-awareness and increased understanding and sensitivity to our role in creating systemic inequalities.

Also:
Opinion: It's Time To End The Colonial Mindset In Global Health  
https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/12/30/784392315/opinion-its-time-to-end-the-colonial-mindset-in-global-health 

Opinion writer Abraar Karan is an internal medicine resident in the Hiatt Residency in Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.  He reflects on this quote by Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, who wrote this bold indictment in the journal this year.

"Any western medical institution more than a century old and which claims to stand for peace and justice has to confront a painful truth — that its success was built on the savage legacy of colonialism."

I hope to see more Forum users drop by the conference this week!

Carol

* This session took place at 00:00 - 01:30 AEST on Thursday, October 29. (added by moderator)
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Toilet availability is a human right and well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils.
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

For more information about said conference, see here:  https://forum.susana.org/156-conferences-seminars-and-workshops/24402-2020-unc-water-and-health-conference-science-policy-and-practice-online-conference-26-30-october-recordings-available

Hi Carol,
Thanks for pointing out this session! Its recording is now here (starts properly at 10:25 into the video):



I like how the conference website preserves the chat for the session. I looked over the chat contributions and saw this link to an article in the Guardian that is also really relevant to this discussion thread:

The aid sector must do more to tackle its white supremacy problem 
Racism is embedded in structures and power dynamics, so we should logically conclude that we are not immune


https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jun/15/the-aid-sector-must-do-more-to-tackle-its-white-supremacy-problem

(June 2020)

So I suppose what is written in the article about the aid sector in general also applies to the WASH sector in particular. 

For example:

The general reliance on international staff for positions which could be performed just as well, if not better, by local hires is difficult to justify. We’re told the local capacity doesn’t exist, or that we are victims of an overly professionalised sector, requiring perfectly written English language reports to headquarters and donors. This mindset, and more precarious contracts for local staff, devalues their contribution and labour and means their voices are not heard.

We need a radical rethinking to tackle our own problem of institutionalised racism. It is precisely because we are advocates of human rights that we should expect far more from ourselves than others, seeking reform with a great deal of urgency. We have the tools, expertise and guiding principles that many other industries do not, and if we can acknowledge our blind spots, the opportunity for a great deal of positive change is at hand.

I guess this brings up the question again: Is it justified that the donor country wants to send some of their "own" people to oversee how the money is being spent? Is the "expat model" which for example GIZ and others are using justifiable or could it be tweaked/improved/changed. Or should we think of it this way: In an ideal world, one day in the future, official development assistance would no longer be needed and the problem of expats versus hiring local staff would just go away?

Meanwhile, what exactly does all this mean for SuSanA and the way it's organised? 

By the way, I just posted today in another thread that 67% of SuSanA members are from developing countries (Global South). Please see here:  forum.susana.org/10-announcements-regard...th-now-we-know#31106

Is that a high enough percentage? If not, what should we aim for? 

We also know from our statistics pages that forum users from developing countries make fewer posts than what would be expected, see here . This is something we can focus on changing. So far only 30-40% of all forum posts (depending on the category) are made by members from developing countries.
 
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  • paresh
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Thank you Euphresia for initiating this discussion and Depinder for pointing out the need to mainstream indigenous knowledge,  and the lack of diversity within organisations of the Global South. The latter is particularly important for a diverse country like ours. Unfortunately, the issues  run deep and I think that we are partly discussing only a manifestation of these deeper issues. One quick example is the either complete lack or disproportionately less representation of researchers from marginal sections (religious minorities, scheduled tribes, scheduled castes) in institutes of higher education in India (see statistics below)

Source: Adapted from www.facebook.com/appsciitb/photos/pcb.28...57/2808238109275956/   
(See more  here and here )

To be honest, I don’t know many people from the marginalised sections who work with organisations working on WASH issues in India. My hunch is this is one of the reasons that the heinous practice of manual scavenging continues in the country.

Regardless, organisations and individuals from the North need to be sensitized towards not dismissing local knowledge and instead make efforts to acknowledge and mainstream it. The other side is the nature of the publishing industry which makes it difficult for under resourced researchers (especially form the Global South) to publish open access. This was partially discussed in this thread

A couple of responses to earlier posts:
Kris wrote:

At least in my personal experience this isn't for a lack of trying to involve policy makers and researchers from the global south. If fact it is being tried so much, that the few people seemingly interested and able to contribute end up overloaded and tired of yet another attempt to involve them.

I wouldn’t completely agree with this. Look at the way bilateral loan agreements were structured (I am not aware if this has changed). In many cases, the receiving country also has to agree to buy the technology and hire consulting firms from the lender country. So often one comes across academic work by researchers in the global north based on field-work in the global south conducted with local researchers without an author from the host country (See the paper in this thread for example.)
     
The same people get the work because almost everybody prefers to hire or work with somebody who has worked with them or their network earlier. Even otherwise, a very small section of the population, most belonging to privileged sections of the society have the confidence, the ability, and/or the network to even apply for such positions. It is also a manifestation of the deeper issues I hinted about above.  

Elisabeth wrote:

All the people I have ever worked with during my time in the WASH sector have been anything but racist and I could not name a single person (or even organization) where I have felt that it was "white supremacy" at play. Power issues, incompetence, wrong decisions, sexism etc. yes - but white supremacy?


I am sure you’ve considered this but I see two possible reasons – most people are genuinely good or the people you’ve worked with are  polished and talk in a manner that is politically correct. However, the question that is relevant here is whether any of these individuals made conscious efforts to be inclusive? There is quite some literature on people who stay neutral effectively end up supporting  and even reproducing status quo.

Two questions to ponder upon and sum up this long post: 
  1. Do the people responsible for hiring understand the prevalent diversity (in the country they are hiring), are aware of issues relating to it and making genuine efforts to bring in diversity? (My observation limited to India is that either there are no efforts or such efforts are hindered by meritocracy argument.)
  2. Are organisations of the Global North making efforts in sensitizing their employees and researchers about how they can acknowledge and mainstream knowledge from the global South? 
Regards
paresh

(In interest of transparency I should acknowledge that though I represent a country from the Global South here, I should and will be considered a fairly privileged individual within India - A male from upper caste who didn't have to worry about paying bills till finishing masters education.)
Paresh Chhajed-Picha
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  • SusannahClemence
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Hi, Paresh and others,

I've just realised the significance of this thread to my observations about menstrual management. (I think I was put off by the term "decolonisation", which sounds more abstract than it is.) I wonder if the first step in inclusion of disregarded people might start with inverting some of the attitudes, especially disgust. For instance, Paresh, you mention as "heinous" the practice of manual scavenging. What positive changes might start to emerge when manual scavenging is called "noble", "highly skilled", "vital" or some other term that denotes respect and appreciation for the work?

I am saying this because (1) I know, it's easy for me, from a distance and (2) I find it a useful challenge and exercise for myself, when confronted by difficulties that involve personal or social attitudes and prejudices. It's interesting sometimes to test how hard it is to speak positively of something that's the object of common disgust. Even harder to say it publicly. An example here in the UK was when the lowest-paid care workers were recognised as "essential key workers", during the first wave of Coronavirus. Suddenly, their wellbeing and personal safety became higher priority to us all, than that of many well paid people.

Best wishes, and thank you, Susannah
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