When the Indian Government launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, or Clean India Mission, to create an open defecation free India, AKDN contributed an award-winning model of integrated block-level sanitation called the Comprehensive Sanitation Initiative. A central component of the initiative is generating demand for improved hygiene practices, tackling age-old norms and transforming long-standing behaviour change – and thereby improving the quality of life.
A key focus area has been the role of women. Women take on leadership roles in the service design, delivery and management in the Initiative with a focus on ensuring women’s active participation in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) committees and Self-Help Groups (SHG).
For example, in the state of Gujarat, SHG federations have successfully led large-scale “open defecation free” campaigns. AKDN has also demonstrated innovative financing approaches through these SHGs to reach the most marginalised.
In the state of Bihar, AKF’s Solid Waste Management Programme (in partnership with the European Union), is formalising the role of SHGs by providing them livelihood and income generating opportunities in the waste economy.
At the same time, AKF is also working to reduce the drudgery of women by ensuring that they have access to household level-drinking water – and that they do not have to walk long distances to fetch safe drinking water.
The work on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is AKF’s conscious effort to interlink MHM and WASH in order to effectively address the specific concerns of women and girls and strengthen their knowledge and practice of improved menstrual hygiene. Over 28,000 women and girls improved their menstrual hygiene practices as of this writing. Efforts were also made to support mechanisms that strengthen initiatives around MHM through community volunteers know as Sachet Didis and Swacchata Sakhis.
Through the support provided by AKDN on building the capacity of frontline workers, Gauri first built a toilet in her house. Experiencing first-hand the benefits of safe sanitation, this Anganwadi worker is now teaching other women and children in her community about the importance of having a toilet and adopting good hygiene practices to sustain healthy outcomes.
“My self-help group provides funds for community members to take loans. Earlier, most people would need the money for medical expenses, but after convincing them about the dangers of open defecation on their health, people started utilising the funds for constructing toilets. Now that our village is declared ODF, incidences of people falling sick has drastically reduced, and they take loans for their other needs.”
Matukiya Devi is an inspiring community leader who in 2010 was the first person in her village to construct a toilet in her home, which was considered a taboo by many. She motivated all 64 households in her village to construct a toilet and started a SHG with other community women to assist people with micro-loans.
"Earlier, it was highly burdensome to wake up early in the morning and walk long distances to defecate. The walk was embarrassing, and we were in constant worry of being attacked by animals out in the open. Seven of us women decided to come together, and with the help of the Aga Khan team, learnt about finances and toilet construction in the SHG training. We now use these skills to convince people, especially women, to construct toilets in their homes."
Hansa Behen, through her SHG, is focussing on community mobilisation, awareness generation, skill building, and financial lending. She has convinced several households – especially the women – to invest in good quality toilet units. She is also trained in masonry.
“I feel proud to spread awareness on waste segregation and proper disposal practices that I learned in the orientation meeting with Aga Khan. Once we collect the waste, we convert it into organic compost at the centre. I enjoy working at the composting centre with the other members as it is giving us an additional source of income and contributing to a cleaner neighbourhood. "
Shobha Devi is working hard to keep her locality free of open dumping grounds for waste. She is part of a Self Help Group in Khagaul, Patna that is reaching out to households to segregate their waste, which is then collected and utilised in the decentralised composting centre she manages along with three other SHG members.
"Earlier, my family had no option but to dispose our waste near our house in the open. The waste collectors were not regular. Now that we have learned how to compost from kitchen waste, we utilise it in our terrace garden instead of throwing it outside. Our passages are clean and we do not have to worry about our children playing outside anymore."
Composting has made Khushi a Cleanliness Champion in her community. She regularly visits households in her neighbourhood to spread awareness about the health problems caused by open dumping of household waste. And she encourages others to compost right from their homes. Many families nearby have started composting and are reaping the benefits of a cleaner and greener neighbourhood.
"Earlier, our SMC was barely functional. But today we conduct regular meetings to discuss school sanitation issues, plan and prioritise the operation and maintenance of the WASH facilities, and budget for repair work within the school development plan."
When, Rubi Devi took on the role of the School Management Committee (SMC) president of the school, the toilets were in a dismal state and unusable. Taking matter into her own hands, she leveraged external funds to get the toilets renovated and ensured provisions for water through the construction of a water pump. She now makes routine inspection visits to the school and oversees the operation and maintenance of school facilities so that children have access to their hygiene needs at all times. Under the School Hygiene Education Programme, in partnership with Reckitt Benckiser, under the Dettol Banega Swachh India Initiative, AKF India is strengthening School Management Committees to plan and prioritise investments for the operation and maintenance of school WASH facilities.
For more information about AKDN’s Comprehensive Sanitation Initiative, please watch https://www.akdn.org/project/akdn-comprehensive-sanitation-initiative-india