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>> Advocacy is about holding up a mirror to the government and saying: “Look what you have committed yourself to – now you need to take action to fulfil this commitment”. What can civil society organisations use to do this?
There are two important points to remember when thinking about how civil society organisations can use resolutions in their advocacy so that governments improve the way they realise services for all:
(1) The human rights to water and sanitation are guaranteed in international human rights law. Countries have made commitments to realise these rights. They need to translate these commitments into their national legal systems by giving meaning to principles and standards that come with rights – in their laws, their policies and in the daily practice of responsible institutions.
(2) Civil society advocacy has a key role to play in bringing this about! A study on a global sample of 123 states over a 15-year period found that the recognition of the right to water in the legal system alone does not lead to better services. Civil society participation as a pressuring factor on governments is one key aspect that changes this and contributes to better services.
Civil society, both local organisations and INGOs, can support awareness and be a catalyst for change in attitudes and understanding that access to water and sanitation are rights and not a special benefit. Examples include:
(1) Promoting new national legal provisions that incorporate the human rights to water and sanitation as recognised in resolutions.
For example, civil society successfully advocated for the inclusion of the human rights to water and sanitation in the Kenyan Constitution when this was being reformed. Today, the Constitution includes both rights in Article 43:63.
(2) Reviewing national laws and policies to examine whether they consider principles and standards of the human rights to water and sanitation.
For example, do national water and sanitation policies oblige government institutions to adhere to human rights principles of participation, transparency, accountability, and non-discrimination and equality?
Do national monitoring frameworks and processes collect data on and analyse human rights standards of accessibility, affordability, quality and acceptability of water and sanitation services?
(3) To change the practice of institutions, it is important to demystify the human rights to water and sanitation to make them practical and actionable in processes at local and district level. Advocating for change by creating best practices can be successful. For example, using the Making Rights Real approach in Ethiopia, WaterAid saw better awareness of marginalisation amongst officials, better coordination between institutions that deal with equality and more intentional engagement with marginalised groups, including women, people with disabilities and internally displaced people. This resulted in more inclusive planning and budgeting processes.
There are several tools and strategies that civil society organisations commonly use, such as:
(1) Policy briefings on commitments a government has made, including in resolutions. These often compare the commitment made to implementation in practice. Mapping inequalities in the enjoyment of services can also be a powerful tool, for example on accessibility or on services in informal settlements.
(2) Sharing human testimonies on how an improved understanding of rights changes perspectives in planning, project delivery processes and in monitoring can inspire others to follow good practice examples.
(3) Accountability action research products CSOs can work on identifying best practices and working processes that make duty bearers more accountable and rights holders more active in making demands. Various approaches to social accountability can be tested and shared and most importantly CSOs can play a leading role in strengthening accountability systems and institutionalising processes at rural water facility and utility levels.
(4) Raising issues of human rights at strategic moments can be important to increase the political responsiveness. For example, WaterAid raised the issue of the gendered effects of COVID-19 on access to water, sanitation and hygiene in East Africa, highlighting points that are important in any emergency.
(5) UN documents and resolutions are currently mostly used by human rights organisations to demand access to adequate water and sanitation services – for example women’s rights groups or disability rights organisations. Countries do not give meaning to resolutions nationally. And in the WASH sector, hardly anyone even knows they exist.