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Entrenched social cultural norms affecting safe disposal of infant faeces in rural East Sepik, Papua New Guinea

In a society that is deeply rooted in its culture, it is challenging to influence attitudes to change. Influencing change in behaviours means not only understanding the defined social norms passed down from generation to generation, but also how social beliefs, norms and attitudes has led to changes in culture and how this process of change can be used to influence hygiene behaviour change.
Entrenched social cultural norms affecting safe disposal of infant faeces in rural East Sepik, Papua New Guinea

Community members participating iniInfant faeces management research in rural East Sepik, Papua New Guinea

Research conducted by the International WaterCentre (IWC), Divine World University - PNG, WaterAid PNG and its local partner Integrated Rural Development Initiative in East Sepik province, Papua New Guinea, identified a number of different beliefs held around the management of infant faeces. It is believed for example that men lose their strength when coming into contact with infant faeces, relegating the responsibility of infant faeces management to women. Given the widespread acceptance of these practices entrenched in social norms, it is unsurprising that a majority of community members surveyed, both men and women, reported that handling infant faeces is a ‘woman’s job’.

Infant faeces management in East Sepik

A challenge with women taking up the majority of household activities is managing competing priorities. The disposal of infant faeces is one activity that gets little attention, leading to risky practices such as disposing faeces into the river, bushes and in other instances left in the open. The negligence of proper handling of infant faeces poses a great health risk to the lives of infants and their female carers.

Results from this research show that these practices are prevalent in the community despite the knowledge levels on improved hygiene being quite high and some of the households having access to improved toilet facilities.

The research

This research is part of a behaviour change intervention design under a three-year Civil Society WASH Fund program that seeks to understand the risky behaviours related to infant faeces management and design Information Education Communication (IEC) tools that will influence and change those risky behaviours. This intervention is in response to the current WASH environment where infant faces management is often overlooked by health practitioners. The International WaterCentre, WaterAid and its local partners hope to raise awareness on this topic, build interest in addressing the matter and develop behaviour change tools that will be useful to WASH actors in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Island countries.

Female carers are the primary target group for this behaviour change campaign, while men and young mother’s extended family are the secondary influencing group. Most communities in East Sepik are patrilineal where men and the extended family play a major role in defining a woman’s role in the community, including child rearing practices.

The authors

Gail Pigolo Gail _profile

Gail is a WASH Program Officer with WaterAid PNG. She has been working in the WASH sector in PNG since 2009 working with rural and peri-urban communities on programs with World Vision, WSP (The World Bank) and WaterAid PNG. Her areas of expertise include School’s WASH, applied research, project design and management, community development and most recently behaviour change programs around infant faeces management and menstrual hygiene. She holds a Bachelor of Environmental Health from Divine World University.    

Edith Kamundi Edith_image

Edith has worked in, for and with WASH for over 15 years. She has worked in Sub Sahara Africa in water services provision, WASH project implementation, applied research and extensively in training and capacity building. She continues to build her capacity by working with like minded individuals and organisations to make an impact in ensuring the world attains universal access for all. 

WASH Futures 2016

Hygiene behaviour and infant faeces management is a key focus of the Integrating Hygiene to Ensure Health Outcomes stream of the WASH Futures Conference 2016.  

Gail Pigolo and Edith Kamundi will be sharing their research on infant faeces management and presenting at the conference on understanding infant faeces management practices in rural Papua New Guinea on Monday 16 May.   

For more information on #WASH2016 please visit: 


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