Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

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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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  • 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"

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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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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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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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 Director Water Programme at Centre for Science and Environment. He has taight at Shiv Nadar University and has lead the Sanitation Capacity Building Platform(SCBP) of National Institute of Urban Affairs. His professional engagements have been with AKRSP(Program Officer Forestry), SPWD(Sr. Program Officer), CARE(Director NRM), Oxfam(Program & Advocacy Director), WaterAid India(Country Head) and WSSCC(National Coordinator) and as an independent consultant.

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

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. Most of such donors are members of SuSanA and championing this agenda especially during this covid-19 period where localisation is pertinent towards flattening the curve.

Euphresia

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

depinder wrote: Thanks JK for continuing the discussion.
You do accept that WASH knowledge priorities from south are not recognised, but conclude that this has nothing to do with dominance of northern WASH experts or institutions. 


Well, in a sense the WASH knowledge sector is an incredibly tiny bubble with very little real world influence. True, it is northern dominated but I have come to the realization that this is ultimately mostly irrelevant. What we really need to do is break out of the bubble and as a result I think the issue of northern dominance would solve itself (as WASH is really an inherently global topic).

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

Chaiwe wrote: Kris your comment below is simply not factual. 

Kris' Comment:..Adding to that, various reasons (language and formal qualifications among them) result in a selection of mostly people from the rich urban upper-class of the global south being the ones getting the offered jobs and most of the interaction (despite having little intrinsic self-interest/motivation in most of the typical "development" topics), thus this can be hardly called de-colonisation.

_I think it is the responsibility of the global south to call out these 'colonial' undertones within the sector.


Yes, I could have probably been more nuanced on that comment. But I have seen this play out in two different ways very often:
- In South Asia (as depinder is also implying) you have a lot of well educated urban upper caste people that are simply not very interested in looking at the root causes of poverty and consider sanitation issues as something "in-pure". But I guess due to many development sector jobs being relatively well paid and in a clean office environment, these people end up with a lot of such jobs. This can be a quite frustrating environment to work in and "de-colonising" into such structures is definitely not an improvement.
- In those places that I worked in in sub-saharan Africa on the other hand, there are a lot of northern-educated and minded people in the development sector. With many of those, I really fail to see how this would be de-colonizing as really the only difference is in skin color... yet some of them (a common theme especially in East Africa it seems) really like to emphasize de-colonisation. Maybe I am over-interpreting this, but it always seems a bit too self-interested as of course any "de-colonized" jobs would have to actively discriminate against foreigners.

Of course this is a broad generalization and I met a lot of exceptions to the above. But it irks me a bit when people think superficial de-colonization would solve any of the many issues in this sector. And certainly as long as there is such an imbalance in funding it is a bit of a moot point, I fully agree.

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

I have been following this discussion from the onset and felt it is great to add my thoughts. First of, I would rather phrase the title of this discussion 'Initiating De-colonisation of the WASH sector'. It is rather unfortunate to turn a blind eye to some of the points raised by Euphresia on the topic no matter how intense and accusing they may sound ( though I personally feel that the discussions about race are ill-fitting in this discussion and can be addressed elsewhere). The truth really is, to sum up from all points raised within this thread that:

_There is a gross power imbalance between countries in the north vs countries in the south. In my opinion, this is owed to who brings the money. Unfortunately, funders will always in a way hold on to some form of higher power and control, if not the majority of it in comparison to their recipients. Until the global south achieves some form of funding self-sufficiency this imbalance is here to stay. This is also why experts from the global north are sent to 'manage' how these finances are spent and how projects are implemented. Resulting in further imbalances within the WASH sectors' organisational workforce. Global north 'experts' remain in managerial and decision-making positions and in most cases have the final say, even in the dissemination of sector knowledge. Bearing in mind that the global south is in no way lacking with respect to WASH sector expertise and in most cases has way more knowledgable experts within the local context. Kris your comment below is simply not factual. 

Kris' Comment:..Adding to that, various reasons (language and formal qualifications among them) result in a selection of mostly people from the rich urban upper-class of the global south being the ones getting the offered jobs and most of the interaction (despite having little intrinsic self-interest/motivation in most of the typical "development" topics), thus this can be hardly called de-colonisation.

_I think it is the responsibility of the global south to call out these 'colonial' undertones within the sector. So kudos to Euphraise for beginning this discussion. However, it would be wonderful to see this happen at the various levels (national, local, project) within the global south.  It is also the responsibility of northern countries to accept that it is what it is. In my own experience working with various public, private, and government organisations within the global south. Discussions, opinions, and perceptions concerning this 'global south sector colonisation' are commonplace, but oftentimes these are discussed informally behind closed doors where the funders are not within eavesdropping length, and while in the presence of the funder a more politically correct tone is employed. After all who wants to bite the hand that feeds you right? (a term I would rather not use).  I think this is still the biggest problem behind the lack of sustainability and ownership of interventions. 

_Not to say that it is all grim. I think there is a realisation that the scale is tilted to one side and efforts are being made to try and create a balance. Take for example how more and more the once very heavy 'donor-driven' approaches in the sector have eased out and a more 'cooperating partner approach' is being employed focused on more global south driven decision making and intervention within the sector. 

Regards,
Chaiwe
SuSanA Forum Moderator
Skat Foundation (With financial support by GIZ and SIRWASH up to November 2023)

Chaiwe Mushauko-Sanderse BSc. NRM, MPH
Independent consultant located in Lusaka, Zambia
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Thanks JK for continuing the discussion.

You do accept that WASH knowledge priorities from south are not recognised, but conclude that this has nothing to do with dominance of northern WASH experts or institutions. 

This discussion will benefit from identifying what are these WASH priorities, engaging in discussion, instead of debating the north-south issue. Not that for me this is not important, but because as Euphresia has also said - the acceptance of the dominance is not there. 

Just to conclude, let me also repeat that I also see certain WASH Knowledge priorities are not being raised even by Southern WASH experts for political reasons that these will not be tolerated by their own national government. The example of caste and class issues in WASH, the manipulation of data and facts in national reporting of WASH progress, the regional, racial and ethnic exclusions, etc. It is here that the collaboration and support from Northern experts can be great. But is sadly, absent. 

In my post on this topic I had highlighted a few neglected southern WASH Knowledge priorities that dont find mention at the international level and I am presenting the same here again so that we an start discussing these : 
  • Sanitation-Stunting linkage based on empirical regression and co-relation econometrics as done by Dean Spears for India
  • Commercial marketing messaging approaches to hygiene promotion - as done by Val Cutris
  • Lack of understanding of deeper self perception barriers and aspirations, that undermine hygiene behaviour change. Not understood and worked on by northern experts.
  • Promotion of Menstrual Hygiene Management as a hygiene practice, divorced from engagement with feminist and womens movements in countries on how they have dealt with this. 
I am also attaching a Framework for Resilient Urban Sanitation Response that we developed in India, based on Covid 19 and Sanitation response experience in India. I am sharing this as an example WASH knowledge generation from south. Will it get recognised by north experts?

Covid 19 and the Black Lives Matter has forced this topic of de colonisation of WASH Knowledge on this and other forums. For the first time north experts were home bound but it has not stopped them from generating new frameworks setting at home!!!
Depinder Kapur is Director Water Programme at Centre for Science and Environment. He has taight at Shiv Nadar University and has lead the Sanitation Capacity Building Platform(SCBP) of National Institute of Urban Affairs. His professional engagements have been with AKRSP(Program Officer Forestry), SPWD(Sr. Program Officer), CARE(Director NRM), Oxfam(Program & Advocacy Director), WaterAid India(Country Head) and WSSCC(National Coordinator) and as an independent consultant.

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

Thanks Carol.

I have also seen your input on twitter today and it is nothing but the truth - Decolonise WASH! I also shared the link to the paper here

Euphresia

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