An ocean of renowned women leaders from different religions, countries, organisations, and fields came together on the banks of the holy Ganga River to discuss and then commit themselves towards playing active and collaborative roles in saving the children and communities of India from death, disease and stunting through improved WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) through GIWA’s historic “Women for WASH” Summit.

The Summit was part of the first mega-event organised by the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) with the technical support of UNICEF. Over 100 women leaders from across India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and Africa particpated, representing Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism.

Dignitaries Included:

• Anandmurti Gurumaa, renowned faith leader
• Kiranjot Kaur, the first female member of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandhak Committee (SGPC)     and its former General Secretary
• Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, the Secretary General of GIWA
• Dr. Mary Kristin Nelson, Executive Director, Parliament of World’s Religions, Chicago USA
• Vijaya Barthwal, MLA and former Minister of Uttarakhand
• Deepika Singh, Program Director, Religions for Peace, New York, USA
• Kristin Envig, Founder and President, Women’s International Networking (WIN) Switzerland
• Dr. Binny Sareen, Brahma Kumari’s Global Hospital & Research Centre, Mt. Abu
• Sue Coates, WASH Chief, UNICEF India
• Kiran Bali, Global Chair, United Religions Initiative
• Mahamandaleshwar Santoshi Ma
• Mahamandaleshwar Maitreyi Giri
• Suma Varughese, Editor-in-Chief of Life Positive magazine
• Dr. Sara Ahmed, Senior Program Specialist Agriculture and Food Security; Climate Change and Water, IDRC
• Dr. Husna Ahmed, CEO of Global One 2015 and a GIWA Board Member from London
• Vartika Nanda, journalist, poet and writer
• Rima Gautam, journalist and poet

Sue Coates, WASH Chief, UNICEF India, said it is high-time we looked at the crucial role women can play in leading a WASH Revolution. In so doing, she outlined the immense misery millions of girls and women in India have to go through every day because there are no toilets for them within their homes, schools and communities. Countless girls are thus forced to drop out of school upon reaching puberty because there are no safe, clean, dignified and enclosed toilet facilities to protect them from prying eyes in their most delecate moments.

She next established the link between unsafe water, open defecation, non-washing of hands before meals, the open disposal of child feces and menstrual hygiene issues with diseases, malnutrition, childhood stunting and a range of women’s health problems. For these reasons, women must lead the way towards ensuring a more equitable society, in which everyone, everywhere, has improved access to healthy water, sanitation and hygiene.

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Secretary General of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance
(GIWA), pointed out the horror of 1200 children under the age of 5 dying every day in India because of poor water, sanitation and hygiene. Nearly 300 million women in India are forced to defecate in the open every day, inviting violence, rape, assault, shame and acute discomfort as they wait until dark to heed the call of nature. The lack of facilities for taking care of menstrual hygiene in schools forces girls to drop out of school when they begin menstruating, resulting in low levels of education, poor health, and the feelings of being outcast and dirty. This change only when the women of India come together, speak up and take collective action. She thus called upon women leaders of all faiths and fields to commit themselves to take concrete action to change attitudes, behaviors and conditions.

Anandmurti Gurumaa, one of the most prominent and popular women religious leaders of India, spoke powerfully of her pride of being a women and said that every woman is a goddess and needs to be treated as such. She said that 250,000 people are involved with her organisation’s girls’ education programmes, and vowed to ensure that all schools in her area have toilets for girls. She also pledged to take concrete steps to ensure women have better access to the healthy water, sanitation and hygiene they desperately need.

Senior Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee member, Kiranjot Kaur, said religion is a very important part of the lives of most women, and so is water, sanitation and hygiene. She underscored the need for changing mindsets, breaking social taboos and cultural influences that inhibit women. People everywhere must drop old styles of thinking and behavior, in order to better ensure safer, healthier, more equatable lives for women and girls, she added.

Hon’be Smt. Vijaya Barthwal, MLA, thanked Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji for the crucial endeavours of GIWA and its historic Women for WASH Summit. She said that WASH issues should have been India’s top national priority over 60 years ago, adding that women must now band together with personal commitments to set things right.

Dr. Binny Sareen of the Brahma Kumari’s Global Hospital & Research Centre, informed
the gathering of the considerable work that the Brahma Kumaris are doing for girl’s education and health. She elequently pledged her committment to join forces with GIWA to ensure the lives of women and girls especially are uplifted through improved WASH.

Dr. Husna Ahmed, the CEO of Global One 2015 and a GIWA Board Member, explained the importance Islam places on water and hygiene. Citing her experience in several countries, she stressed the effectiveness of involving faith communities in the mission of improving WASH conditions for all.
Mary Kristin Nelson, Executive Director, Council for Parliament of World’s Religions, said to change things we have to speak up, stand up, share our stories, push our cause and make ourselves heard.

Kristin Envig, Founder/President of Women’s International Networking (WIN), discussed the need for more women to come forward as true WASH leaders through collective, bold action, calling upon women to never accept what should be unacceptable.

Kiran Bali, Global Chair, United Religions Initiative, also underscored the importance of women uniting and organizing
themselves. United action will have a domino effect, she said, resulting in progressive change for the betterment of all society. She called upon women to be the change they want to see.

At the conclusion of the Summit, GIWA Co-Founder, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji thanked all the women leaders who came from different parts of India and from across world, lauding their resolve to take the WASH Revolution forward to every home, every school and every community by uniting and using their power as the embodiment of the Divine Feminine.