Celestine Nyamu Musembi
‘User participation’ and ‘community ownership’ have been part of the lexicon of the water and sanitation sector since the adoption of the integrated water resource management approach in the 1980s. However, these terms have their origin in an era of budget cuts, and therefore participation has been invariably evaluated and justified in instrumental terms – what it can do for project outcomes such as sustainability. This article argues that participation is a right and ought to be incorporated into all stages of decision-making concerning water and sanitation. The human rights standard for participation is that it should be ‘active, free and meaningful’. This article identifies and analyses the elements of active, free, and meaningful participation, as elaborated in various international human rights documents and selected national experiences. The implications of this analysis are then considered at the various stages of decision-making: planning and formulation of policy and legal frameworks, finance and budgeting, service delivery and monitoring.