Interview by Megan Foo
Jordan Teague is earning her Master of Public Health degree from George Washington University in Washington, DC, focusing on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) issues. While in DC she has interned at the Pan American Health Organization, researching disparities in access to WASH in Latin America, and at WASH Advocates, an organization that advocates for universal access to clean drinking water and sanitation. She is now working full-time with WASH Advocates. She has also traveled to Ghana to empower women entrepreneurs to start their own water treatment businesses with Community Water Solutions. Her passion is in how WASH impacts women and girls’ daily lives, health, empowerment, and dignity, and its relationship with other international development efforts. In her spare time, she enjoys her nieces and nephew, traveling, running, and reading.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Jordan Teague: I was born and raised in North Carolina, and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for my undergraduate education. Once I found my passion of public health and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), I enrolled at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health in Washington, DC to pursue a Master of Public Health in the Global Environmental Health track with a focus on WASH in developing countries. I am now the Program Associate at WASH Advocates, focusing on increasing the amount and effectiveness of funding in the WASH sector, strengthening sustainability of WASH, and advocating for effective integration of WASH into other development sectors, including nutrition, gender, HIV/AIDS, education, and environmental conservation.
Women LEAD: You are a Program Associate at WASH Advocates and a WASH Consultant at the John Snow Research and Training Institute. Can you tell us more about your experience in the domain of WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene)?
Jordan Teague: While volunteering at a medical clinic in Honduras, I was astonished to find that most of our patients complained of waterborne diseases, due to the lack of clean drinking water and sanitation in the surrounding communities. While we treated their symptoms at the clinic, I did not feel as if we were doing enough. We were merely putting a Band-Aid on – not fixing the root of the problem. It was then that I decided to follow my newly found passion of public health and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), so that I could be part of the solution to so many problems that stem from lack of WASH. Since discovering my passion for WASH, I have continually realized the importance of WASH in new ways. Not only is WASH important for health in general, it’s necessary for nutrition, elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), economic growth and empowerment, agriculture and food security, environmental conservation, education, and women’s empowerment. My path with WASH has taken me through quantitative and qualitative research, community development projects, and advocacy efforts. One of the projects that has been most impactful for me was when I was a Community Water Solutions Fellow in the Northern Region of Ghana. My team and I worked with two women of a village named Bogu to establish a water treatment business. Because of their hard work, the entire community including the school has access to clean drinking water and the two women have a source of income. Fewer children will get sick and have to miss school, the women and girls won’t have to walk the mile to the community dugout just to collect contaminated water, and the women and children can focus on their education and income-producing activities such as agriculture. Stories like that show the importance of WASH and the impact that it has.
Women LEAD: From a WASH angle, what does women’s empowerment mean to you?
Jordan Teague: Women’s empowerment means allowing women and girls to access the resources and tools they need to improve their lives and reach their full potential. This includes education, income, respect, dignity, and many others. WASH gives them all of those things. When there are single-gender sanitation facilities at school, girls are more likely to go to school and receive an education. When women and girls don’t spend up to six hours each day collecting water, they can spend more time on caregiving, education or income-generating activities like agriculture or selling products in the market. Women can serve on water committees, work on WASH projects, and be leaders in their communities. When pregnancy and menstruation are viewed as natural and beautiful processes, women receive respect. When women don’t have to go to the bathroom out in the open, women achieve dignity and don’t have to worry about being harassed or sexually assaulted while finding a place to go to the bathroom. To me, women’s empowerment is WASH, and WASH is women’s empowerment.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Jordan Teague: I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by strong and inspirational women on all sides. My mother, grandmothers, and friends as well as those women I’ve met throughout the world encourage and support me day after day. But, the two women who have had the most impact on my life, my career, and my passion are my two nieces. Though they are young and small, my entire perspective has changed since they were born. It was then that I really understood the tragedy that so many women and girls face throughout the world, and the circumstances that I was so grateful that my nieces would avoid. Their presence in my life has made me strive to work that much harder to help and support women and girls throughout the world better their circumstances, just as if they were my own nieces, friends, mothers, and grandmothers.
Women LEAD: What needs to change to break the taboos developed around menstruation?
Jordan Teague: The first step to breaking the taboo will be breaking the silence. Too many girls are unaware of what is happening to their body when they first start menstruating – many think they are dying due to all the blood. Too many women and girls don’t know what to use or where to get it to manage their periods. Too many girls must miss school because there are no single-gender sanitation facilities with a place to dispose of sanitary products. Too many women and girls must stay in isolation during their menstrual period. We, as a global community, must start and have started talking about these issues and having more conversations like this, especially ones that include men. We must make it easier for women and girls to access information and resources about menstruation. Only when women and girls themselves are comfortable with menstruation will the greater community begin to break the taboo. WASH United is working with over 80 partners and declared May 28th as Menstrual Hygiene Day. In addition, a month-long social media campaign, Menstravaganza, will take place leading up to the 28th. Partners represent international, national, and local organizations who believe in breaking the taboo.
Women LEAD: Are there websites or books that are inspiring you right now about gender equality, women’s empowerment, and education?
- I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, Malala Yousafzai
- King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village, Peggielene Bartels
- Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War, Leymah Gbowee
- Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, Elissa Stein and Susan Kim
- Menstrual Man, Amit Virmani