Following the traditional Indian custom of honouring pregnant women during the latter half of their pregnancy, the district administration of Kalaburagi has started a new initiative that while celebrating motherhood, promotes hygiene practices among women.
On the new initiative called Koosu meaning ‘child’ organized in collaboration with the local Primary Health Centres (PHCs), CEO of Zilla Panchayat in Kalaburagi District of Karnataka, Hephsiba Rani Korlapati explained that the ‘baby showers’ are particularly meant for pregnant ladies owning toilets.
“Breaking barriers, and taking advantage of cultural practices, we have devised a small programme wherein after ante-natal checkup, we check if pregnant women have access to toilets and build one if they don’t. We also educate pregnant women about health, hygiene, sanitation and nutrition; and also sensitize them about breastfeeding and newborn care,” she said.
Thereafter, women of the gram panchayat (GP) organise a baby shower, a ceremony that celebrates the baby bump and honours the pregnant woman. In the process, the most respectable tasks are given to women representatives. This engagement between them and PHCs ensures that they develop a good rapport with the health department to maximize institutional deliveries. Later, follow up is done by health and Women and Child Department (WCD) functionaries.
The Koosu initiative is a brain child of Koralpatti, who has put in place a scheme whereby ZP officials organize baby showers post-delivery in homes of families who build toilets for their daughters or daughters-in-law who are soon to be mothers.
“We were inspired to start such a programme after we heard about the ASHA worker, Indira Bhai from Gundagurthi village who built a toilet for her pregnant daughter Bhagyashree in a matter of two days.
During the first baby shower (seemantha) that the CEO organized, she announced that such programmes will be organized by the panchayat in all homes of pregnant women who build toilets.
The CEO believes that it is vital for ASHA workers to spread awareness on building toilets for pregnant women and inform them about the need to breastfeed, each time they visit homes. After delivery, the new mothers would also be advised about food and nutrition practices.
“In the absence of toilets, women tend to reduce food and water intake during pregnancy which leads to malnutrition,” Korlapati explained.
Earlier, the former CEO of Chamarajanagar had launched USHA campaign that catered to all girl students with a view to providing awareness about menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and other pertinent issues.
An acronym for ‘Understand, Sensitize, Help and Achieve,’ USHA was an intensive campaign held from 25th November to 24th January, to ensure that no girl child was left behind, according to the CEO.
Considering that the district is among the most backward in the country in terms of literacy and other human development indicators; with child marriage, teenage pregnancies and malnutrition prevalent, the campaign was intended to address a pressing need.
The main objectives of the campaign were to enable an equitable and decent life for every girl child in the district; to restore her rights and dignity; and to give her identity and space. In the process, access to toilets and menstrual hygiene management were given substantial focus.
In this context, teachers across the district volunteered to be mentors and worked beyond the call of their normal duty, alongside functionaries of the Zilla Panchayat, participating in a gamut of activities that converged with various government schemes.
Toilet building campaign
More recently, the CEO organized a toilet building campaign started on World Environment Day with the aim of constructing 10,000 toilets in a period two weeks. The individual household latrines were meant for the rural poor and priority was being given to families that have pregnant and lactating mothers. It also included a plantation drive.
The CEO’s work with women and children has also inspired 11-year-old Suchitra KP from Kamarahalli village of Gundlupet taluk in Chamarajanagar district to convince more than 20 families in her district to build toilets. In that sense, the child was the face of the USHA campaign in her district. She was the youngest to be awarded on International Women’s Day by the Delhi Commission for Women.