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Is shame a bad thing

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The question on whether it is ethical or right to use ‘shame’ as a resource
for facilitating change has been an emerging critique of Community-Led Total
Sanitation (CLTS). This question could be misleading, as at no point does CLTS require facilitators to say ‘shame on you’ to target audiences for defecating in the open or for eating each others’ shit.

The question should then be whether we should embrace a methodology that
evokes negative emotions irrespective of the change or transformation such
approaches bring in the lives of those we engage with.

Power in stigmatizing open defecation
The CLTS process has proven to be effective in evoking valuable emotions
which some regard as negative. Critics of the CLTS method repeatedly single
out the “shame” aspect. There is power in socially stigmatizing bad practice [not people] such as open defecation (OD), corruption, and gender-based violence among others. In Kenya, for example, it is not the facilitator who stigmatizes OD, rather it is the process itself that enables people to reach that realization. At no point have we been told by a community that they have been shamed or embarrassed by the facilitators. Feedback has indicated that they themselves feel ashamed.

In Cambodia, losing face is considered one of the worst experiences one could
have. The CLTS facilitators working in the country are extremely cautious of people feeling hurt, rejected or experiencing a loss of confidence. The transect
walk, where people walk through their villages and identify defecation spots
and calculation of shit, are conducted to raise awareness of the magnitude of the problem.

In Pakistan, it is the conviction among CLTS practitioners that it is the sense of pride and dignity and not shame that has proven powerful in effecting changing. So siginificant was the impact of CLTS here that in fact this led to the PATS (Pakistan Approach to Total Sanitation) being launched – similar to CLTS but with less emphasis on the elements of ‘shame’.

Shame can act as a powerful trigger in behaviour change
It is important to note that the concept of shame is not entirely defunct in South-East Asia. When government officials feel ashamed of the sanitation situation in their areas, they take action. Paulus Tereng, head of Lerahingga Village in Indonesia, highlighted his feeling of ‘risih’ (unease and embarrassment) about open defecation practiced in his village, a shame which peaked during the CLTS intervention supported by Plan Indonesia that encouraged, or ‘triggered’, community members to stop open defecation in their villages and adopt better sanitation practices. This motivated him to campaign for open defecation free (ODF) status in his village, as well as neighbouring villages. Paulus has since been widely recognized as a CLTS

In conclusion, evoking negative emotions such as “shame” or embarrassment may not ultimately be so bad. Feeling ashamed has propelled people into action in some cultures, and on the other hand is seen as losing face in others. We need to learn how to manage such emotion as a resource to change the social norm. We should not avoid creating conflict within
the inner-self, as that could be the key to change. In South-East Asia how should it be done then? Given that the CLTS approach calls for being direct in talking about shit? Well, perhaps it is ok to ‘beat around the bush’, as long as it is not ok to be shitting in the bush.

Samuel Musyoki is Programme Support Manager at Plan Kenya
Hilda Winarta is Regional WASH Specialist for the Plan International Asia Regional Office

This article first appeared in the Final Report of the WSSCC Global Sanitation and Hygiene Forum, Mumbai

Date: 27 April 2012