In Rohtas, they had to break the band of friends

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During the implementation of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in Suryapura Block of Rohtas District in Bihar, the district team found the women quite rigid in their behaviour.   They opposed any suggestion to build toilets, and even expressed annoyance at attempts to change their normal inclination of defecating in the open.

“We noticed that in the absence of toilets at home, women would go in groups of 6-8, under the cover of darkness to relieve themselves in the open.  When they reached their OD site which was normally beside main roads, two or three women proceeded withtheir job at hand, while the others stood on guard and vice-versa,” explained Sub Divisional Magistrate, Rajesh Kumar.

More importantly, the women had formed strong friendships and they would go together for their routine task of performing ablutions morning and evening for about half an hour each time.  More often than not, they would take their daughters along.  Taking strength from numbers, it was a sure way of ensuring privacy and protecting their dignity, failing which they were vulnerable to harassment.The district team realized that to convince the women to adopt safe sanitation practices and convince their husbands to build toilets at home, they had to break such bands of friends.

In this regard, they put in place a campaign called ‘Shouch Sakhi Todo Abhiyan’ which literally means breaking the open defecation friendship team or ‘Shouch Sakhis’.

The Rohtas sanitation campaign identifies such groups in the intervention villages and motivates at least one of the group members to build and use toilet at home. Once the campaigner succeeds in motivating one member, it is showcased as an example to other members.  In time, the group starts to break with other members fearing that she may be the only one left behind.  In due course, the group members also start convincing others; and eventually all the group members build toilets at home and adopt safe sanitation practices.

With this in mind, the assigned teams sat with the women – one to one, told them about the loans they could avail of, the health benefits of having a toilet a home.  Who will accompany you when you need to relieve yourself, they asked.  They figured that if they were able to break one person from the group who went on to build a toilet at home, she would go back to the others and relate how convenient it was, how good she felt from the inside.  “What she told others went a long way to convert others and convince them to do likewise,” Rajesh Kumar said.

It is often the case that women are sacrificing by nature, regardless of the suffering they have to endure.  They would go out of their way to get help for their children or spouses.  However, for their own needs, they would push those concerns to the back burner.  Also, they make various excuses about having no money.  But once a woman is convinced about the need for a toilet, she would very easily persuade her husband or father about it.

Through the campaign, the SDM and his team appealed to the women at a psychological level, and thus were able to achieve mass level conversion.  Almost all groups broke, one by one, according to the SDM.  The women left behind were also pressurized into going for toilets at home.

On how they convinced men about building toilets, the SDM and his team told mean to pretend to be women for just a day.  It meant that they had to wake up when it was still dark and go outside to defecate; or they could go after dark in the evening.  However, in between, the men could not perform any ablutions.  Just a day as women, and the men were convinced of the tough life women led.

Results of the Shouch Sakhi Todo Abhiyan were remarkable, according to Rajesh Kumar.  While the Sanjhauli block became ODF in 52 days on August 15, 2016, the Suryapura Block comprising of 5 panchayats will be ODF soon.  Having been successful in this campaign, the same would be implemented across the other 6 blocks in the sub-division which in all likelihood will be ODF by January 26, 2017.  However, to achieve this task, as many as 85,000 to one lakh toilets have to be built to cater to a population of 6-7 lakh individuals of the total of 10 lakhs in the sub-division.  With the new target set, a lot of work needs to be done, admits Rajesh Kumar.

On its part, the district administration has offered immense support.  Each block has been assigned to a block development officer. In addition they have involved people from other streams of administration – teachers, anganwadi and ASHA workers, elected representatives from PRIs, youth, self help groups, etc and each of them have independent assignments with a certain number of households allotted to each of them – some to address behaviour change, some to convince them to build toilets, some to focus on awareness building, etc.

In the first block that became ODF, residents were paid 25% of the toilet cost upfront.  However, the SDM says that there seems to be some sort of silent revolution happening.  People are willing to change their lifelong habits without incentives.  In areas that have already become ODF, vigilance teams are monitoring the situation to ensure sustainability of the ODF status.

The SDM is confident that they would bring about behaviour change which is the focus of the ODF campaign, across the entire district soon.

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