Women in water point committees in Malawi
Manesi Chayera and Ellen Andson have been friends for a long time. They live in the village of Njumwa, in Phalombe District of Malawi. For years, they would meet—along with other women—as they collected water from an open well. The approach to the well was muddy and slippery, and the water was polluted. “We used to share our water with wild animals. People were frequently sick” said Manesi. In the dry season the well would sometimes dry up and the women would then turn to a swamp near the community. It was this way for the about 30 years.
The CS WASH Fund is supporting United Purpose (formerly Concern Universal) to improve WASH services in Phalombe District, including the community of Njumwa.
United Purpose worked with district officials to install two improved wells with hand pumps, concrete aprons and improved drainage in Njumwa. One well serves 93 households; the other 83—meaning more than 1,000 people now have access to clean water. People are enthusiastic about the benefits. One man said, “Marriage relationships have improved now that the women don’t leave home early to collect and carry water”.
It is a policy of the Government of Malawi that all rural water supplies must be managed by a Water Point Committee; and each committee must comprise 10 members, of which at least six are to be women. United Purpose and the Phalombe district officials have formed and trained two committees to manage the new wells.
One of the Njumwa committees has managed to meet the target of six women, but the other has only four female members. When I asked why, I was told that some women don’t feel that they are capable of being on the committee. But then Manesi Chayera, the treasurer, and Ellen Andson, the chairperson, pointed out that while their committee has not yet met the 60% female target, at least they are in the key leadership positions and believe they will be able to encourage more women to join the committee. “We suffered for so long without decent water. We will do all we can to keep this system operational. We’ve been trained to do simple repairs, collect tariffs, account for the finances and organise the community. We know who to call if there are technical problems we can’t solve. We challenge that If you come back in years from now you will find our system working” (Manesi Chayera).