A small Muslim village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has served as a model for others to achieve total sanitation by empowering women.
In 2006, the village of Shahpur Jot Yusuf (2,300 inhabitants) in Bahraich district received a President’s Award for achieving 100% sanitation. The campaign and motivation techniques were replicated in 16 other villages in Bahraich. In 2009, all 16 villages were also awarded a President’s Award.
It all began with one woman in the village and one civil society organisation, the Baraich-based Development Association for Human Development (DEHAT), a UN Millennium Campaign partner. Recalls Jitendra Chaturvedi, Chief Executive, DEHAT, “I was shocked to see that the distance between the makeshift dry latrines that were in most homes earlier and the kitchen hearths was just three feet apart. What was worse, the excreta was disposed manually, with no proper sewage or plumbing. Sweepers had to perform this demeaning task. The filth was dumped in a nearby pond, which was just 30 feet deep and the dirty water inevitably seeped into drinking water sources, contaminating them as well.”
Even the village women observed “purdah” (segregation from men), Chaturvedi and his colleagues “were convinced that if Shahpur Jot had to be transformed, the women had to play a pivotal role”. DEHAT founds its champion in the pradhan, or village head, Shakila Bano (45), who realised that she and the other women would had to give up her ‘burqa’ if they wanted to improve their living conditions.
Once the idea that they could make a difference caught on, Shakila and her band of women were eager to do everything they possibly could to transform their living environs. The situation was indeed dismal. The open drains were full of blood and refuse from local slaughter houses and the pond was overflowing with faecal matter.
Slowly, the urge to see this village of 2,500 people clean and healthy became everybody’s goal. Shahpur Jot’s 300 homes all have a toilet today. In fact, one family which has a physically challenged daughter has built a special toilet with handles so that the child would have no problem in using it. The sewage system is similar to the flush toilets in urban homes, with septic tanks to collect the waste.
The impact of this initiative on the local administration was quite considerable. The authorities were taken aback when DEHAT informed the officers who came to inspect the sanitation facilities that it had cost a paltry Rs 500 to construct one toilet per home.
“The DM could not believe that it could be done so cheap. We assured him that it could even be done totally free. In a village that thrives on farming vegetables and fruits, each household contributed Rs 3,000-4,000 (US$1=Rs 46.8) for the toilets. We also received support from the government under the Samagra Gram Vikas Yojna (a state-funded scheme that gave grants to villages through the local MLAs) so that our campaign could carry on undeterred. A sum of Rs 10,00,000 was allocated for this purpose,” says Chaturvedi.
Better hygiene and sanitary facilities improved children’s and women’s health: medical bills came down and women suffered less from gynaecological problems because they could relieve themselves whenever they wanted in privacy.
Eight Self Help Groups were created and women were informed about child care, personal hygiene, and how to help keep their surroundings clean. Discussions on these issues figured in the monthly meetings held in the village and a Health Day was observed in the local school, together with projects on the importance of proper sanitation
One of the first problems tackled was the slaughtering of animals in the lanes of the village. Open slaughter was banned and the open drains were covered.
Change always brings in more change. Today, every girl in Shahpur Jot attends school. In order to encourage girls to study further, bicycles were bought and the girls trained to ride them. Many of the older girls now cycle together in groups to attend high school in an adjoining village. Interestingly, they have also taken a pledge not to marry into homes that don’t have their own toilets!
Contact: Jitendra Chaturvedi, DEHAT, Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Anjali Singh,Womens Feature Service / News Blaze, 14 Jul 2010 ; Jitendra Chaturvedi, UNews / UN Millennium Campaign, 05 Mar 2010