India: former scavengers take fashion show to UN Headquarters, New York

A group of Indian women, rescued by the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation from the degrading task of manually cleaning toilets, joined leading fashion models on the catwalk before representatives from more than 150 countries at UN Headquarters in New York, USA. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs invited the group to meet with diplomats participating at the High-level Segment of the UN Economic and Social Commission (ECOSOC) (30 June – 3 July 2008).

The first Mission Sanitation — Fashion Fiesta was held in the Bulgarian Embassy in New Delhi on 31 October – 1 November 2007. Prince Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands was so impressed that he felt it needed greater exposure and pitched the idea to the United Nations as a way to promote the International Year of Sanitation.

The fashion show in New York was partly a tribute to Sulabh’s founder, Mr. Bindeshwar Pathak, from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which in a new 156-page report praised his for-profit, private-sector solution to an intractable social problem.

See a video of the event at UN Headquarters on 2 July 2008 here.

See earlier postings on this topic in Sanitation Updates here, here and here.

Read about the experiences of former scavengers Sunita Nanda and Usha Chaumar in New York here.

Below are videos of the Mission Sanitation fashion show and Sulabh’s Nai Disha programme for scavengers in Alwar, Rajasthan.

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