Sanitation: A women-led, game-changing, initiative

Sanitation in urban slums is always a challenge due to lack of safe water and toilets. Despite the improvements, the situation is still dire in many slum communities. Women and adolescent girls suffer from lack of clean toilets in various ways, including lack of security when accessing community facilities.

With this in mind, Shelter Associates, a non-governmental organization (NGO) working with the urban poor in Maharashtra to provide basic services such as housing, water and sanitation, came up with a game-changer. The house is a toilet. Commenting on the initiative, Shelter Associates Executive Director Pratima Joshi says, “Today’s urban slum population is more vulnerable to lack of access to safe sanitation services, yet their voices are often excluded from the planning and implementation of sanitation projects. It is data-driven and women-centric.

Using technology and Google Earth for poverty mapping, the NGO has worked with urban local bodies to provide 25,000 home toilets in slums in seven cities in Maharashtra. In most data mapping exercises, women and girls lack primary attention. The campaign to provide toilets for every home has been adequately represented by women and girls. The data was co-authored with the help of more female volunteers who conduct community meetings and house-to-house surveys. The data collected was divided by gender, focusing on collecting information that specifically affects women and girls. Data records their life experiences and tells their story.

Lata, an elderly woman from Navi Mumbai, says, “I was worried about the safety of my granddaughter, who wanted to help me with the community toilet, especially when it was late. I am very grateful for a home one toilet project that solved my biggest problem by offering our own toilet.

Lack of hygiene affects women and girls in many ways. They may or may not be able to access community facilities, especially at night. The inability to do so can cause stress and have a negative effect on health, such as a urinary tract infection. This creates a barrier to menstrual hygiene and a lack of productivity at a time when women are trying to re-enter the workforce. This approach enables local urban organizations to assess issues such as missing or inadequate drainage networks, inaccessible community toilet blocks and open defecation. This helps in more targeted service delivery.

Female volunteers are trained to collect, read and analyze data and maps using Android apps. Women from slum communities rarely get a chance to use technology and they never deal with numbers. The key change here is that they show a level of confidence in their abilities, increasing their sense of self-esteem.

Sujata, a vegetable vendor in Pune, is one of such volunteers. After learning to read regional data from the Shelter Associates team, she was able to bring about a significant change in the state of sanitation in her community by persuading people to build a toilet in their homes. Sujata proudly says, “The one who called me Bhajivali (Vegetable seller) Now first call me madam ”.

When it comes to families receiving support for home toilets, the women of the house are the ones who decide the toilet location and choose all of its fittings. This makes them feel in charge, a huge step for women who are almost invisible in urban slum settings.

lalita.panicker@hindustantimes.com

The opinions expressed are personal

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