Tag Archives: women

Eco-Friendly, Women-Centric Approaches Towards Female Sanitation

Many women in the developing world can miss up to 50 school or working days per year due to lack of proper feminine hygiene.

Jani Pad

To alleviate the problem, in Rwanda a Harvard MBA graduate Elizabeth Scharpf formed the Sustainable Health Enterprise (SHE). The organization then started working with Rwandan women to make sanitary pads made with banana-tree fibers. Since 2009, SHE has also trained 5,000 Rwandan women to set up their own micro-enterprises, creating an industry that is as sustainable as its product. They have also been educating women about female hygiene to create health awareness.

With every woman-led business that SHE invests in, roughly 100 jobs are created and approximately 100,000 girls and women gain access to affordable sanitary products. Scharpf hopes to expand the Rwanda model to other countries over time.

The Jani Pad

More recently, five students from Sweden and Norway banded together to create sanitary protection using fibers from water hyacinth. The water hyacinth in Lake Victoria, Kenya is an invasive plant that causes a lot of environmental problems. As the plant grows very fast, it can easily blanket an entire lake cutting off light – this creates havoc for transportation and also destroys local ecosystems. However as the fibers of the plant can be spun and used for paper making, it was put to use to create sanitary pads.

Roughly 870,000 girls in Kenya miss four days of school every month due to a lack of feminine protection and underwear. The Jani pad is made of four layers of water-hyacinth paper. Each layer has different characteristics like perforated holes to  improve absorption or beeswax to prevent leakage. The pad also comes with slits on the top layer to conform to the wearer’s body.

Importance of Women Entrepreneurs

Both of these products have women-centric approaches to women-centric problems. According to the US State Department there are more than 200 million women entrepreneurs worldwide and they earn more than $10 trillion every year. Environmental issues, social problems and community upliftment are all areas that women naturally gravitate towards and all these areas present ample business opportunities as demonstrated by these two initiatives.

However in spite of everything that women can bring to the work place, in many parts of the world they are met with unfair disadvantages. International Women’s Day highlights this and brings to light the importance of women towards creating balanced societies everywhere.


Indian brides herald a toilet revolution

Young women are part of a campaign to bring much-needed social change and improve sanitation facilities

If you don’t have a toilet at home, you might not get a bride in India. In a silent revolution of sorts, Indian women across the country, especially in rural and semi-urban areas, have a single condition before they agree to a match – the groom must have a toilet in his home.

The “No Toilet, No Bride” campaign, initiated by the government, is co-opting young women to bring in much-needed social change. Across the country, more people have access to mobile phones than to toilets.

Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research, one of the NGOs involved in the campaign, says it has succeeded in certain areas. “Lack of basic hygiene at present is very much a marginalised farmer’s practice,” she says. “There are affluent communities with land and concrete houses who are now building toilets.”

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India, Tamil Nadu: housing and toilets for women self-help groups

Photo: IVDP

An Indian NGO that provides housing and toilets for women’s groups was a finalist in the 2010 World Habitat Awards. Established in 1979, the Integrated Village Development Project (IVDP) mobilises poor women to form self-help saving groups (SHG).

Some 6,700 groups have been established do far, each of which is made up of 12 to 20 disadvantaged women. IVDP has sourced affordable credit lines for the members of the saving groups, enabling the construction of 24,705 houses and 17,000 toilets. Awareness-raising campaigns help improve wider vulnerable groups’ understanding of water, sanitation and personal hygiene practices.

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India: liberated women scavengers visit Parliament, meet Speaker

A new beginning: A group of liberated women scavengers during their visit to the Parliament House in New Delhi, India. Photo: R. V. Moorthy/The Hindu

It was an unforgettable moment for 300 women who used to work as manual scavengers as they entered the precincts of Parliament to get an experience of the Lok Sabha [Lower House] on Tuesday [16 August 2010] for the first time.

Treated as “untouchables” and ostracised by society for the nature of their work for decades, the women belong to a class of workers who used to manually clean human excreta.

The 300 women, who hailed from Alwar and Tonk districts of Rajasthan, have stopped working as manual scavengers now. They were received by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar as special guests.

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Swimming upstream: why sanitation, hygiene and water are so important to mothers and their daughters

Water, sanitation and hygiene and the most under-recognized interventions when it comes to improving the health and well-being of women, say Clarissa Brocklehurst and Jamie Bartram in an editorial in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization [1].

Let us start with a pregnant woman. She is likely to have to collect and carry water for her baby’s delivery from a hand pump outside her home; globally more than 40% of households do not have a water supply on their premises. If she is very unfortunate she will be among the 13% who do not even have a hand pump and rely on an unimproved water source, made even more risky by the fact that most people in her community lack even a basic toilet. These unhygienic conditions take on new significance when she weans her child. Diarrhoea kills 1.5 million children every year1 and there is a strong link between diarrhoea and malnutrition.

By around the age of six, the child should be going to school. However, if this child is a girl, much of her time will be needed for tasks at home, including water collection. In half of all households worldwide, water is carried to the home and in 72% of households, women and girls are the primary water collectors. Girls are twice as likely as boys to be the carriers. Our girl child is exposed to an increasing range and burden of infections as she encounters the world beyond her home. Intestinal helminths affect 400 million – one in three – schoolchildren. Infestations such as hookworm reduce physical growth and impair intellectual development. Girls weakened by energy loss, intestinal worms and repeated infections are predisposed to anaemia that takes on new significance as they enter menarche, which may also mark the end of their limited schooling. The lack of school toilets with privacy and facilities for menstrual hygiene contribute to sporadic attendance and drop out. If our girl child does not overcome these constraints and she drops out of school, she will likely face early marriage and early childbearing.

But the vicious cycle of inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene that keeps women in poor health, out of education, in poverty and doomed to bearing sickly children can be reversed.

The first hurdle our mother and child encountered was the unsanitary conditions and lack of hygiene at the time of birth. A study in Nepal showed that hand-washing by birth attendants and mothers increased newborn survival rates by up to 44%. Hygiene promotion has been shown to be one of the most cost-effective health interventions, particularly with the use of marketing techniques based on those used by private companies.

In sanitation, though global progress has been poor, some developing countries achieved up to 60% reduction in the proportion of their population lacking improved sanitation. It is likely that political will, modest financing cleverly applied and a focus on changing behaviour and social norms, not just installing infrastructure, contributed to this rapid progress. Building demand for toilets, especially among those people who have practiced open defecation all their lives, helps trigger household investments. Evidence that these approaches are effective suggests that accelerated progress is possible.

Barriers in providing drinking-water can also be overcome. Innovations include low-cost drilling techniques and cheaper hand pumps, the use of locally-managed, small-scale systems, entrepreneurial water kiosks and civil society intermediation between poor communities and service providers. Providing water, sanitation and hygiene in schools is increasingly a priority for ministries of education in developing countries. Emerging designs for toilets that incorporate privacy and facilities for menstrual hygiene provide a multitude of benefits. For instance, women who have been to school are less likely to die during childbirth – each additional year of education prevents two maternal deaths for every 1000 women.

The authors add that “water, sanitation and hygiene also enable women to play roles in their community’s development” including “decision-making and management of water and sanitation systems”.

Clarissa Brocklehurst is Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF headquarters in New York. Jamie Bartram is Professor of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA.

[1] Read the full editorial, including references:
Brocklehurst, C. and Bartram, J. (2010). Swimming upstream: why sanitation, hygiene and water are so important to mothers and their daughters. Bulletin of the World Health Organization ; vol. 88, no. 7 ; p. 482.
doi: 10.2471/BLT.10.080077

Sexual equality and sanitation: Flushing away unfairness

Hanging on too long for porcelain parity is more than a nuisance for women

THE scene is familiar, infuriating, and usually met with resignation. Women, legs crossed in discomfort or desperation, wait in line for the lavatory while men saunter in and out of their loos. It is a common sight at theatres, sports grounds and other public buildings.

Sanitation and women’s rights are closely linked. West Virginia barred women from jury service until 1956, claiming courthouses lacked female toilets. In 1994 a Texan firm fired dozens of women rather than provide extra lavatories. Until 1993 female senators had to jostle with the tourists visiting Capitol Hill, because no rest rooms were assigned to them.

In poorer countries unequal provision means more than just discomfort. Studies in countries such as Ghana and Cameroon suggest many girls at secondary school miss a week of classes when they have their period, or drop out altogether when they reach puberty. Rude boys plus inadequate or missing girls’ toilets make calls of nature embarrassing or outright dangerous. In India some 330m women lack access to toilets. Many wait until night, raising the risk of rape, kidnap and snake bites. Amnesty International complained on July 7th about the similar plight of women in Kenya’s slums.

Now things are changing. About half the states in America now have porcelain-parity laws, as do Singapore and Hong Kong. A bill now before Congress mandates equal provision of toilets for men and women in federal buildings. In 2005 New York City decreed that women must have twice as many outlets as men, though like the bill now before Congress, it applies only to new buildings and those undergoing substantial renovations. Japan’s tourist areas typically provide two or three times as many toilets for women as do South Korea’s or Taiwan’s. New Zealand has ruled that under human-rights legislation, no woman should have to wait more than three minutes to go to the loo.

Read More – The Economist

In India, New Seat of Power for Women – the success of the “No Toilet, No Bride” program

Prospective Brides Demand Sought-After Commodity: A Toilet. But by linking toilets to courtship, the “No Toilet, No Bride” program in Haryana has been the most successful sanitation promotion effort so far.

NILOKHERI, India — An ideal groom in this dusty farming village is a vegetarian, does not drink, has good prospects for a stable job and promises his bride-to-be an amenity in high demand: a toilet.

In rural India, many young women are refusing to marry unless the suitor furnishes their future home with a bathroom, freeing them from the inconvenience and embarrassment of using community toilets or squatting in fields.


Cartoon by Neelabh in Times of India, 23 Mar 2009

About 665 million people in India — about half the population — lack access to latrines. But since a “No Toilet, No Bride” campaign started about two years ago, 1.4 million toilets have been built here in the northern state of Haryana, some with government funds, according to the state’s health department.

Women’s rights activists call the program a revolution as it spreads across India’s vast and largely impoverished rural areas.

“I won’t let my daughter near a boy who doesn’t have a latrine,” said Usha Pagdi, who made sure that daughter Vimlas Sasva, 18, finished high school and took courses in electronics at a technical school. “No loo? No ‘I do,’ ” Vimlas said, laughing as she repeated a radio jingle.

“My father never even allowed me an education,” Pagdi said, stroking her daughter’s hair in their half-built shelter near a lagoon strewn with trash. “Every time I washed the floors, I thought about how I knew nothing. Now, young women have power. The men can’t refuse us.”

Indian girls are traditionally seen as a financial liability because of the wedding dowries […] but that is slowly changing as women marry later and grow more financially self-reliant. More rural girls are enrolled in school than ever before.

A societal preference for boys here has become an unlikely source of power for Indian women. The [illegeal but widespread] abortion of female fetuses in favor of sons means there are more eligible bachelors than potential brides, allowing women and their parents to be more selective when arranging a match.

“I will have to work hard to afford a toilet. We won’t get any bride if we don’t have one now,” said Harpal Sirshwa, 22, who is hoping to marry soon. […] “I won’t be offended when the woman I like asks for a toilet.”

Satellite television and the Internet are spreading images of rising prosperity and urban middle-class accouterments to rural areas, such as spacious apartments — with bathrooms.

[…] With economic freedom, women are increasingly expecting more, and toilets are at the top of their list, they say.

[…] “Women suffer the most since there are prying eyes everywhere,” said Ashok Gera, a doctor who works in a one-room clinic here. “It’s humiliating, harrowing and extremely unhealthy. I see so many young women who have prolonged urinary tract infections and kidney and liver problems because they don’t have a safe place to go.”

Previous attempts to bring toilets to poor Indian villages have mostly failed. A 2001 project sponsored by the World Bank never took off because many people used the latrines as storage facilities or took them apart to build lean-tos, said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research in New Delhi, who worked on the program.

Indra Bhatia, who is raising seven children in Panchgujran, India, said her toilet has changed her life. When I marry my daughters off, I will make sure that their home is fully equipped with a toilet and the works, she said. (By Emily Wax -- The Washington Post)

Indra Bhatia, who is raising seven children in Panchgujran, India, said her toilet has changed her life. "When I marry my daughters off, I will make sure that their home is fully equipped with a toilet and the works," she said. (By Emily Wax -- The Washington Post)

But by linking toilets to courtship, “No Toilet, No Bride” has been the most successful effort so far. Walls in many villages are painted with slogans in Hindi, such as “I won’t get my daughter married into a household which does not have a toilet.” Even popular soap operas have featured dramatic plots involving the campaign.

“The ‘No Toilet, No Bride’ program is a bloodless coup,” said Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, a social organization, and winner of this year’s Stockholm Water Prize for developing inexpensive, eco-friendly toilets. “When I started, it was a cultural taboo to even talk about toilets. Now it’s changing. My mother used to wake up at 4 a.m. to find someplace to go quietly. My wife wakes up at 7 a.m., and can go safely in her home.”

Pathak runs a school and job-training center for women who once cleaned up human waste by hand. They are known as untouchables, the lowest caste in India’s social order. As more toilets come to India, the women are less likely to have to do such jobs, Pathak said.

“I want so much for them to have skills and dignity,” Pathak said. “I tell the government all the time: If India wants to be a superpower, first we need toilets. Maybe it will be our women who finally change that.”

[This article has attracted 128 reader comments so far, unfortunately many are off-topic rants about religion, abortion etc and toilet jokes]

Source: Emily Wax, Washington Post, 12 Oct 2009

Mali: Raising money and hygiene standards

Women in one of the poorest areas of Mali’s capital, Bamako, have found a way to tackle hygiene issues and earn money at the same time – by making soap.

Djibril Coulibaly, Project Coordinator for JIGI, Mali. Photo: WaterAid.

Djibril Coulibaly, Project Coordinator for JIGI, Mali. Photo: WaterAid.

[…] “Hygiene standards in the Nafadji [slum] area of town were very very low, due to lack of infrastructure and because of ignorance,” Djibril Coulibaly, hygiene coordinator of Malian non-profit JIGI, told IRIN. “We carried out research that showed contaminated water and a lack of water were causing disease, but also that behaviours surrounding hand washing had an impact.”

JIGI (hope in the local language Bambara) has been collaborating with the international charity, WaterAid, for the last eight years to build public faucets and install household latrines in Nafadji.

But when JIGI began its hygiene education programme focused on hand washing [people said] “that they could not afford industrial soap, it was too expensive at 300 CFA [57 US cents].” Coulibaly added. “So we decided to work with a women’s group to look at the problem.”

[…] JIGI and WaterAid supported the Nfadji Women’s Association (AFSAN), a group of some 20 neighbourhood women, to set up a soap-making business in 2003. […] The number of soap pieces made per week has risen from 150 to 225, and demand is increasing, which has prompted plans to expand the business, said Coulibaly.

[Some] long-held traditional beliefs discouraged individual hand washing [for example that handwashing makes you poor]. [Therefore JIGI runs] weekly awareness meetings on washing hands with soap.

Source: IRIN, 26 Feb 2009

Asia: Unilever to take Project Shakti global

Unilever has begun replicating Hindustan Unilever’s (HUL) rural micro-enterprise [in India], led by women-entrepreneurs, Project Shakti in several international markets.

The project was started in 2001 to empower underprivileged rural women by providing income-generating opportunities [by selling soap, shampoo and other pesronal care products], health and hygiene education. Rural women are appointed as Vanis (communicators) and trained to communicate in social forums like schools and village get-togethers. There are over 45,000 Shakti entrepreneurs covering over 135,000 villages across 15 Indian states.

The project has emerged as a successful low-cost business model and enhanced HUL’s direct rural reach in the so-called media-dark regions. Armed with micro-credit, rural women become direct-to-home distributors of Unilever brands in rural markets. Overall, around 50% of Hindustan Lever’s revenues came from the rural markets in India.

The effort is expected to help Unilever tap fresh growth avenues in emerging markets [which now contribute around 44% to global revenues] up in the face of recessionary trends in the US and Europe [and] the saturation of urban markets.

The project is being customised and adapted in other Unilever markets such as Sri Lanka, Viet Nam and Bangladesh. It is being considered for other Latin American and African markets. In Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, it is being promoted as Joyeeta and Saubaghya, respectively. There is a similar initiative in Viet Nam as well.

Related news: Lifebuoy sells handwashing along with 2.6 billion bars of soap across Africa and Asia, Source Bulletin, May 2007

Source: Kala Vijayraghavan, The Economic Times, 19 Jan 2009

Pakistan, Peshawar: Voices from behind the veil

Inside their veiled compounds, women mumble and feet shuffle as they enjoy the only privacy they have in the sprawling Kacha Garhi camp in Peshawar that houses more than 6,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) fleeing the fighting in north-west Pakistan’s tribal and border areas between government troops and militants.

[…] While the purdah [veil, in the local Urdu language] preserves their modesty in this traditional society, it could also hide the women’s concerns and needs. UNHCR – as the lead UN agency for shelter, protection, camp coordination and management in this IDP operation – has identified privacy as an urgent protection issue and distributed plastic rolls to surround each block of 10 tents, securing purdah and free movement around the tents.

[…] “My baby has diarrhoea and keeps vomiting,” says Aziza*, in her 20s, [a displaced woman from Bajaur, one of seven agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan]. “We saw the camp doctor but there’s no improvement. We can’t afford to send him to the hospital.”

[…] Sanitation is also a challenge despite the construction of separate latrines to cater to the special needs of women. “We don’t go in the daytime – it’s crowded and difficult with the burqa. We go at night with a flashlight,” says Aziza. A generator has been installed for night-time lighting.

* Names changed for protection reasons.

Source: Vivian Tan, UNHCR, 05 Nov 2008