50 Days of Action for Women and Girls: Making advocacy count

Written by

Lisa Schechtman
Lisa Schechtman

Lisa Schechtman is the head of policy and advocacy at WaterAid in America, the U.S. member of WaterAid International, the world’s largest NGO focused on providing safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education (WASH) services for poor communities in 27 countries around the world. Prior to joining WaterAid, Lisa served as policy director at the Global AIDS Alliance, and was a member of the Developed Country NGO Delegation to the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Lisa has a Masters of Arts in International Human Rights and Global Health Affairs from the University of Denver, and a B.A. in English Literature and French Language from Northwestern University. She is based in Washington, DC.

One thing I love about my job is that no two days are the same.  “Policy and advocacy” means lots of things: listening, persuading, recommending a course of action and—perhaps most importantly—giving a voice to people who haven’t been given the opportunity to speak up for themselves. Advocacy happens when someone engages in dialogue about an issue they care about—and I care about making water and sanitation a reality for people in every corner of the globe.

My mission is to advance effective and equitable programs to deliver safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for the world’s poorest people: something I do by lobbying Congress, partnering with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to enhance its programs and policies, or urging the Department of State to exert its leadership over United States-government agencies and influence with other governments worldwide. Through my work at WaterAid, I’ve seen how access to water, sanitation and hygiene is the foundation for so many basic human needs, from health to education to personal safety, particularly for women and girls. This is why I’m especially excited that WaterAid has joined the International Women’s Health Coalition and many other partners for the 50 Days of Action for Women and Girls campaign.

The 50 Days of Action campaign aims to highlight just how important it is to invest in women and girls in a holistic way, and to influence key US government agencies to do more and better programs for women and girls. Its approach is to engage a wide variety of organizations and individuals in telling US government officials the many reasons we care about women and girls.

If you check out the campaign Twitter hash tags, #usa4girls and #usa4women, you’ll see the variety of supporters and messages that have already been shared during the first five weeks of the campaign. You’ll also get a good sense of just how many ways there are to improve the lives of women and girls—in turn improving global health, security, and financial stability.

For WaterAid, this infographic says it all: safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are critical for women and girls. For example, WASH can:

• Help prevent early marriage by getting girls in school and helping them stay there, 
• Prevent uterine prolapse, a painful consequence of carrying heavy loads, like water, and 
• Mitigate violence against women by addressing vulnerable situations like a dark latrine.

WASH is no silver bullet. And it’s not just for women and girls, either. Men and boys suffer diarrhea and other water-related diseases too, but the risks of life without clean water and sanitation are greater for their female counterparts, who all too often are further impacted by other human rights violations.

At WaterAid, we’re not just talking to talk. We have the research to support the benefits of investing in women and girls, and to bolster our call for a holistic approach that works with girls and women all throughout their lives. 

So how does all this research and tweeting link to WaterAid’s policy and advocacy work?

First, USAID is finalizing several new strategies and policies, including a long-awaited Water and Development Strategy. Water of course links to many other areas of USAID’s work, including, for example, the forthcoming urban policy and climate strategy. USAID Administrator Shah has the authority to instruct his teams to link all these issues at both the rhetorical and practical levels, and to hold his teams accountable for measuring the impact of this work and learning from its failures. These sorts of coordination and integration can be tough, but they are so important that one of the goals of the 50 Days Campaign is to encourage USAID to do it better.

Similarly, we’re encouraging Secretary Kerry to focus attention on the needs of women and girls at all phases of life as a priority in diplomatic negotiations and in State’s responses to conflict and disasters. The policies exist, and the expertise that resides in the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues means that there are resources to draw on. The lynchpin is whether it’s a priority.

The flexibility and creativity inherent in my job of influencing US government policy is often fun and rewarding.  Yet, one of my favorite parts is making sure this work is accessible and exciting to the average American. That’s where this 50 Days campaign really takes off: it’s meant for you, too.

Join us by checking out #usa4women and #usa4girls; retweet the messages you like, or create your own. Start by sharing our infographic on your own social media feeds, and tweet @WaterAid America with your top priority for integrating WASH with women’s rights. Then, stay tuned for more opportunities to join me in WaterAid’s policy and advocacy work. We can’t succeed without your voice.

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