India Interior

Sanitising their world

Usha Rai | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on December 04, 2015

Sibling help Satyendra constructed a toilet for his sister Pooja.

A school toilet

Sibling help Satyendra constructed a toilet for his sister Pooja. Above, a school toilet USHA RAI

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Girls start self-help groups in Uttar Pradesh's Amethi and Sultanpur districts to address sanitation issues



Combining Self-Help Groups (SHGs) with sanitation programmes is a model that is working well in villages of Amethi and Sultanpur districts of Uttar Pradesh.

While the old concept of SHGs was thrift and economic empowerment of women, the more recent formation of young women’s SHGs has strengthened the movement for toilets and sanitary napkins. An innovative way has been also been found for disposing off the cloth napkins by burning them in earthen pots or  matkasand, and scattering the ashes in the fields.

Girls in schools and colleges collect ₹10-20 every month from their parents and form small SHGs with 10 to 12 members. They then open bank accounts with their collection and take small loans from the SHG with a small interest, for their necessities and personal grooming. They are now able to visit beauty parlours, buy the government’s subsidised sanitary napkins, join computer classes, pay college fees and buy books.

The transformation is evident in some 80 villages of Amethi and Sultanpur districts. Spearheading these changes is the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana, which has been able to tap the potential of several young girls for leadership.

Girl power

Pooja Shukla and Preeti Maurya of Bhikhipur village in Amethi, are two of them A youth leader, the college-going Pooja wants to join the police force or become an art teacher. Preeti is already a good seamstress and wants to make it her vocation. The two are pro-active in their homes too. Both stir alum into buckets of water every morning to ensure clean drinking water. They also insist that long handle mugs are used to draw out water to prevent contamination.

In Tala village, the president of the young women’s SHG is 20-year-old student Sarita Gupta, who hopes to join the civil service. “There are many advantages in the SHGs. The biggest is that they have given us space and confidence to voice our needs and participate in public functions,” echo the three girls.

Pooja’s younger brother, Satyendra, built her a toilet at home in 2013, when he heard of the eve teasing she suffered while going out to ease herself. Preeti’s father, who works in Chandigarh, also constructed a toilet in their home.

The SHGs motivate as well as provide funds to make the sanitation dream a reality. A base line survey before the start of the project showed that 92 per cent in Amethi and Sultanpur used to defecate in the open. Today though, in model village Bhikhipur, 60 per cent of the houses have toilets. Use of sanitary pads, provided by the State, and menstrual and hygiene management have been incorporated. Earlier, the villagers were unaware of the government programme of pad distribution.

Keeping clean

Disposing the cloth they used was not only unhygienic but a problem. There were cases of infection and gynaecological problems. Though the distribution of cloth pads in 22 districts was the responsibility of the ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activist), they would try to get the maximum profit charging ₹10-15 for a packet of five.

The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav made it compulsory to provide sanitary pads at cheaper rates --- ₹6 for a packet of five pads, allowing the ASHAs to keep a rupee on each packet. Working through the SHGs, the sales rose and so did the profit of the ASHAs. If the ASHA is unable to visit regularly, she leaves the packets with a leader of the SHG or someone responsible in the village. ASHAs also provide training and information on health and hygiene.

In most villages today, safe disposal of the pads is possible. The used pads are now kept in a covered clay pot and at the end of the menstrual cycle they are burnt in the  matka using kerosene.

The campaign has helped to break myths like women can’t conceive if they burn the pads, or that they should not enter the kitchen, touch pickles or enter temples during menstruation.

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi

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Published on December 04, 2015
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