Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

India: Women Hold Key to Accepting Toilets
September 2007

Thanks to a huge government subsidy, families in Chattisgarh, India recently added a new room in their house: a toilet. Yet for the most part, they have been transformed into storerooms and are rarely used. What would it take to convince the people of Chattisgarh to use improved sanitation facilities and adopt better hygiene habits? TOILETS OR EXTRA STORAGE? Like other women in the largely tribal, central Indian state of Chattisgarh, Draupati Bhosale was first averse to the idea of building a toilet inside her home. It was just too unnatural. But when the government initiated a Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), a project that allows toilets to be built inside homes at heavily subsidized costs, she relented. “I thought it would give me extra storage space,’’ Draupati said. Launched by the federal ministry of rural development three years ago, the TSC presently covers 15 of Chattisgarh’s 16 districts. Under the project, the government builds toilets in homes against payments of 600 rupees (US$14). Families living below the poverty line (earning less than US$1 per day per person) can get a latrine installed by paying just 125 rupees (US$3). “Constructing the toilets was the easy part,’’ recalls Purnima Devangan, a health worker in Rajnandgaon district. “The problem was a huge resistance against actually using the latrines. In most houses, the toilet area was converted into storage for wood, fuel, and fodder,’’ Purnima said. Draupati now uses her toilet everyday and has become a strong advocate of the TSC. OLD HABITS DIE HARD A relatively new state populated by 18 million people, which separated from the bigger Madhya Pradesh state only seven years ago, Chattisgarh has one of the lowest levels of urbanization in India. Its low population density and large tracts of hilly, forested land make the practice of open defecation seem natural. Getting the people in Chattisgarh to switch to indoor toilets, thereby abandoning age-old practices, presented a major challenge for government officials implementing the TSC. Purnima vividly remembers the chilly receptions she got when she tried to raise sanitation issues during her rounds in Chattisgarh. Her job was to visit homes to check on families’ general health conditions and ensure that the immunization records of children and mothers were in order.

What finally made the difference was the formation of women’s self-help groups (SHGs) within the communities to support the health workers in convincing tribal women to use the latrines the way they were meant to be used. “For a long time they refused to see the advantages of indoor toilet use,’’ said Champa Kaushik, SHG member and female motivator for the TSC in Bahtarai village, Bilaspur district. “They would argue that the latrine space was too cramped and suffocating, and said they thought the whole idea unhygienic. Others feared that their children would slip down the ceramic bowl.’’ The SHGs convinced the women that using the indoor latrines not only is more convenient, but also safer. Often, women had to walk some distance away from home in search of a secluded place to do their daily toilet habits. Often too, many become the victim of snake bites—a common cause of injury and death in forested areas—or worse, get molested. BEGINNING A BETTER HABIT Gradually, the many practical advantages of using indoor toilets outweighed fixed notions and customs. “As the idea caught on and visible gains became obvious, resistance began to break down rapidly,” says Kalpana Dubey, a community worker. The gains Kalpana referred to is the steadily reducing incidence of diseases like diarrhea and malaria in Bahtarai village. Neighboring villages also shared similar experiences. In Markamtola village, the indoor toilet was clearly linked to a dramatic reduction in illnesses, especially among children. “Now the young ones are confident and comfortable about using indoor latrines,’’ Kalpana said. Kalpana also noticed an increase in the general awareness about sanitation and hygiene issues among the tribal people as a result of the TSC drive. Draupati testifies, “Along with the sanitation drive my husband and I began promoting the idea of maintaining a clean and green environment. We started our own kitchen garden and pretty soon others wanted to do the same too.”

GAINING MOMENTUM Chattisgarh’s efforts go a long away in helping the federal government achieve its goal of totally eradicating the practice of open defecation in India by 2010. To increase the TSC’s momentum, the government offers cash awards of 100,000 rupees (US$2,500 dollars) for each rural village that has achieved total sanitation. “Women are the real force behind the sanitation drive,” said Gaurav Dwivedi, the chief administrator of Bilaspur district. “Women are more amenable to change, and respond to the improvements to their lifestyle and that of their families, brought about by the installation of toilets in their homes,” he said. The women of Chhattisgarh enjoy a higher status than their counterparts in other parts of India and this, demographers say, is reflected in the fact that the proportion of women in the population is 933 per 1,000 males. This is high by Indian states standards. Men are also doing their share. Maya Ram, an elected local representative, has involved himself in the construction activity. “I built a toilet in my own home first. Seeing this, people began asking questions and then requesting me to build toilets for them too. By now, I may have constructed 100 latrines in different homes,’’ he states proudly.

_____________________________ Based on the article of Nitin Jugran Bahuguna, Asia Water Wire journalist

*This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in September 2007: The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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