Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

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  • cecile
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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

Dear Asit,
Any time is a good time to pick up on a discussion and thank you for doing so.
6 months ago I participated in this discussion and I was mitigated about the use of the word shit. It is shocking but does it trigger action ?
I have been thinking over it since then while participating in workshops and working on studies and in the end I do understand better how the use of shit flow diagram and the use of a word without circumvolution can effectively trigger, decision makers and even project managers.

I think on the contrary, that the use of conservative and smooth word does withstand or dilutes the severity and urgency of the issues and that in other fields using real words would also help tackle real problems in a more urgent manner, including in the medical field when dealing with patients.

If a word is taboo, the discussion around it and the way to solve the challenges are more likely not to be discussed openly.

It is very good news that the word is used at higher political levels which shows more openness. But as Shoshabana says there is still a long way to go and if the ministries are not ready to use the word shit now, let's not shock them and use a word to replace it (like excreta) but at least they have heard it and it will make its way.
It makes me think about the issue of "Menstrual Hygiene Management" (another nice expression...) which is starting to become "less taboo" (cf. interesting interview of Ina Jurga in the featured users section about this topic !)within a couple of international institutions, but which is still very taboo at lower levels and hence not even talked about in many projects.

Cecile
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  • AsitNema
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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

Picking up the thread of this six month old discussion about the use of the four letter word 'S***'.....

I am just wondering why in the first place one is feeling compelled to use such an explicit, graphic word? These days often enough even in seminars and conferences we are hearing this word? Are we short of appropriate terminology? Are we crossing the boundary of decency in our zest to bring about desired change? Are we not compromising sensitivities of our own and that of the wider audience? Are we becoming insensitive to cultural differences - the eastern and the western folks?

Wonder if the communication specialists would approve of use of such explicit words (Think of other domains and what would happen if they went lose?)! Wonder if use of such words will really lead to bring about the desired policy impacts?

I am not in favour of this trend of using 'offensive' words on professional fora, notwithstanding the severity and urgency of the issue. Let some words remain taboo.

I can't help drawing a parallel from the field of health, and thank the health workers/ paramedics and doctors that they do not use the 's***' and the 'f***' words while dealing with patients!

So my request to the fellow professionals in the sanitation domain is to stick to the conservative, rather than attempt to make our illustrations, exhibits, articles, etc. stark, graphic and explicit (just to attract more eye balls!!). I am sure better sense will prevail !
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  • pkjha
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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

Dear All
I think Human waste is more simple and easy to understand. In Hindi- Manavmal (Manav means Human and Mal means excreta) is popularly used. There is no separate Hindi word for excreta, faeces, loo or poo.

pawan
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  • joeturner
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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

The words are being used at the highest level (usually, it seems to cause offence):

"'Excreta', 'faeces', 'poo', I could even say 'shit' maybe, this is the root cause of so many diseases," said Bruce Gordon, acting coordinator for sanitation and health at the World Health Organization.

from in.reuters.com/article/2014/05/08/uk-hea...dINKBN0DO1CC20140508

It was also used during a UN meeting (see my report here: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/162-pu...cretary-general#8771

If the word is being used at the highest political levels, it isn't so surprising it is being used more widely.

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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

Well, unless one argues that the term "shit" is not a swear word (anymore?), like Peter said in the first post of this thread (he had said: "We have used the term “shit” – which I do not classify as a swear word when not used as an expletive, just a good old-fashioned and very specific Anglo-Saxon-based word in the English language [...]")

Personally, I am also not a big fan of using the term shit in the so-called "shit flow diagrams", because in my mind it only relates to feces - not to urine, let alone any flushwater. So if a shit flow diagram is meant to describe flows of fecal sludge, then it's also misleading from that point of view.

For what it's worth this is how editors on Wikipedia have described the word shit:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shit

Copy of the lead paragraph:

Shit is an English word that is usually considered vulgar and profane in Modern English. As a noun it refers to fecal matter (excrement) and as a verb it means to defecate or defecate in; in the plural ("the shits") it means diarrhea. Shite is also a common variant in British English and Irish English.[1] As a slang term, it has many meanings, including: nonsense, foolishness, something of little value or quality, trivial and usually boastful or inaccurate talk, or a contemptible person. It may also be used as an expression of annoyance, surprise, or anger.


The article then goes on to describe various uses of the word, some of them quite interesting.

I had added this part towards the end of the article:

Sanitation campaigns
Using the term "shit" (or other locally used crude words) - rather than feces or excreta - during campaigns and triggering events is a deliberate aspect of the community-led total sanitation approach which aims to stop open defecation, a massive public health problem in developing countries.[10][11]

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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  • arno
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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

Hi Shobana
Thanks for hearing about your hands-on experience. The term "shit" doesn't lend any form of credibility to the task to be carried out by government officials using taxpayers money. This should be obvious to all concerned one would think. As a tool in social marketing I would say the swear word trivializes the discussion, thus creating superficiality and little or no understanding. Just think if doctors went around using swear words for various parts of the human body that have become diseased. Would this be taken seriously by society?

Why then do people within the WaSH sector persist in using swear words to describe their work when at the same time they claim full credit for their clinically described PhDs and professor titles? Seems like a dichotomy. Are WaSH professionals just like the general public, incapacitated by the taboo? And do they resort to swear words to make themselves more acceptable to society? A complicated behaviour to say the least.

Best wishes..
Arno Rosemarin PhD
Stockholm Environment Institute
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  • shobana
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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

Dear All,

I wanted to share my recent experience with using the word 'shit' while explaining 'Shit flow Diagrams' to officials working in the ministry/ govt. sector.

As many of you have agreed 'whom we talk to' matters, i am not quite sure if this divide is based on where we are or the designation/ background of the person.

The main aim of SFDs, as i understand, is to promote easy understanding of faecal and waste water flow and has a great potential to be used as an advocacy tool to all the key stakeholders. So, usage of word 'shit' to explain a 'shit flow diagram' that has been developed recently seemed more appropriate.
The outcome was a negative reaction from the participants. It seemed very clear that nobody wanted the word 'Shit'. Later, it was advised that the word 'Shit', unless otherwise supported by the literature, should be changed to 'sludge' or'excreta'.
Unfortunately, i could neither find any literature using the term 'Shit Flow Diagram' nor replace shit with 'excreta' or 'sludge' (as they do not have the same meaning).

Has anybody had a similar experience with govt. officials?
Would it be necessary to scrap the usage of this term unless and until there is an official literature published when communicating with local government?

Regards,
Shobana
Shobana Srinivasan
Programme Management Officer
UN Habitat/ GWOPA

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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

Dear Peter and others participants in the discussion, as usual, nearly all contributions to the discussion have a point. When, in 1998, I decided to give my (anthropological) article about management of ‘liquid waste’ in a Ghanaian community the main title “Akan shit” (see attached), I intended to be naughty. I tried to provoke my clean academic colleagues with the term. They claim to write ethnography about daily living, but avoid one of the most mundane and most crucial ingredients of daily life. Another – related, of course – reason to use that (I admit) offensive and indecent term was that I wanted to demonstrate (make ‘concrete’) in both writing and teaching what Mary Douglas called “matter out of place”. The term ‘shit’ sounds very much out of place in an academic class room or peer reviewed scientific journal. It was, moreover, not the idea of shocking alone. We know from linguistic and literature research that if sayings, proverbs, idioms (whether they are about disgust, love, hatred, wisdom, morals, danger, anger, etc.) are linked to faecal metaphors, they are more effective and stick better with the interlocutor. So, I assume that for me the term also had a didactic purpose. But a didactic trick that works for one audience may not work for another. When I spoke about toilets and shit at a festive occasion to an audience with the Ghanaian ambassador on the first row, I was not very didactic and caused mainly irritation and open anger. The same may happen when a sanitation campaigner uses the term in front of ‘civilized’ stakeholders.
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  • arno
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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

Hi Paul
Thanks for the comments. When I wrote one billion open defecators can't be wrong, I meant that their conscious choice to defecate in the open may the best option and the most logical one that provides health safety at least for the moment. On the contrary to lighting up a cigarette, open defecation is a safe bet compared to entering a dark, filthy pit latrine full of pathogens. In particular public toilets that are not maintained become open defecation zones - with a 10-20 m perimeter depending on the size of the community. The ones I have seen in the colder climates of northern China in small towns served by public toilets do present challenges. How about this scenario- minus 15 to 20 degrees centigrade, no lighting or heating, open pits, ice covered surfaces (since people dispose their greywater in these pits. No maintenance is possible until it warms up.


Regards
Arno Rosemarin PhD
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  • paultyndale
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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

Dear All
It's interesting the way these fads propagate around the sector - it all started with the CLTS methodology encouraging the use of colloquial terms for excreta as a way of getting people to confront their own patterns of behaviour, and in English this is the word 'shit'. I wonder, however, in how many english speaking countries the CLTS methodology is used? And now it's become de rigueur in the WASH sector to say 'shit' in public forums and gatherings (mainly I suspect as a change from the normal dreary development-speak we all use) - and as Matt Bond said at the Brisbane WASH conference recently, it's now easier to say the word 'shit' than 'subsidy'.

I tend to agree with Jonathan that the context is important: when discussing with community members the places where people defecate and the consequences, the use of the word 'shit' or its local equivalent is appropriate. When discussing faecal sludge management etc in a meeting or conference it's probably less appropriate. However, whilst using confrontational words may be offensive to some and problematic at times, using euphemisms can be equally unhelpful - as has been pointed out with the use of 'wastewater' (the persistent use of the word 'gender' for 'sex' is another example).

Finally I want to react to a comment made a while back in the discussion that sparked this one - in which the poster (I think Arno?) said that half a billion open defecators can't be wrong. Is that not like saying "a billion smokers can't be wrong", or "a million litterers can't be wrong"? Surely the point of large scale campaigns aimed at changing behaviour is that we are clearly stating that the targeted behaviour is wrong, which is why we want to change it. Recognising and understanding the reasons behind the behaviour is another thing - that people defecate in the open because (for example) they don't have a toilet. That, however, doesn't mean that defecating in the open is the right thing to do.

regards Paul Tyndale

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  • dorothee.spuhler
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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

Thank you Jonathan, I agree it depends on "who we are, who we are talking to and what we are trying to achieve".
Just for information, the current "UN-Water Analytical Brief on Wastewater Management also uses the term "Faecal waste flow diagram" referring to the article published in
the latest "Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development": Fecal sludge management (FSM): analytical tools for assessing FSM in cities (www.iwaponline.com/washdev/004/washdev0040371.htm).
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  • jonpar
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Re: Shit flow diagrams - does it need to be called "shit"? The use of the term shit (a swear word or not?) in sanitation dialogues

What I like about SuSanA is that people are willing to raise topics like these and have an frank and fruitful discussion/debate. There are obviously arguments for using the word "shit" and arguments against. I conclude that it essentially boils down to who we are, who we are talking to and what we are trying to achieve. It's down to us to decide what we use. In some situations, I don't have any problem to say "shit" and in some contexts I can see that this can wake up an audience, but in the case of a more formal discussion or document, then excreta, fecal or human waste would be more appropriate. One thing I totally agree on is that the use of the generic term "wastewater" glosses over too much. I raised this in discussions about the definition of SDGs but the UN-Wastewater Task Force consensus was that we needed a term that embraced all and we could not say wastewater and faecal sludge all the time. I was not altogether happy with this outcome although accepted that for the sake of brevity, one word was what was required and there didn't seem to be a good alternative that I could put forward. Jonathan
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