By Shibaji Bose
The cluster officials of Selanthanpatty block in Salem district were baffled that women headed households were not using the toilets constructed for them. Despite conducting motivational meetings and carrying out activities in keeping with their open defecation free (ODF) strategies, the families were refraining from using their facilities.
According to cluster facilitator, Rajamani, the officials were curious because it was usually the women who were more inclined to build and use individual toilets, out of a sense of shame and the need for security; as seen in other places.
However, as the panchayat facilitators, block coordinator and ground level workers continued to promote ODF they had to contend with very little increase in utilisation of toilets in Pavaivattam village.
It was the panchayat level facilitator, Mehala who chanced upon the answer, based on an angry retort from a village lady whom she had been trying to motivate, albeit unsuccessfully for the last three months to utilise the toilet provided to her.
“We are adults not children. Do think that an adult can move above in a space measuring 3X4 feet with a toilet pan and the drum? If you are so concerned about our safety and our sense of shame, don’t you think we women would also like some privacy to bathe,” the village lady asked.
Reviewing the toilet structures built so far, the cluster facilitators admitted that a 3X4 structure that accommodated a toilet pan, a bucket and a drum containing 25 litres of water was quite congested, leaving little room for the individual using the toilet to move about. No wonder the village people of the Pavaivattam village in Selanthanpatty block adjoining Salem town, chose to continue defecating in the open.
Now, this posed two sets of genuine challenges. Firstly, the Pavaivattam village was a small and congested hamlet and therefore it was not feasible to increase the size of the toilets. Secondly, bathing water that drained down the toilet pan filled up the leech pits within three months, the dedicated team of engineers and masons realised. As the normal time scale for one of the two leech pits (provided with a toilet unit) to fill up is seven years, something had to be done about it.
There followed some intensive brainstorming by the state unit with technical support from UNICEF that resulted in a major workshop for over 200 masons along with field training.
Two simple solutions solved the complex problem: An external water unit (25-litre tank) was fastened to the toilet, while the height of the toilet pit from the ground was increased from 5 cms to 15 cms.
With the problem effectively attended to, the villagers are in praise of Ramesh, the overseer and Prabhu, the block coordinator for overseeing and coordinating the construction.
“The ‘rapid launch of this new model’ and ‘scaling up’ was possible thanks to the proactive handholding support provided by WASH personnel from UNICEF State Office,” said Prabhu.
Commenting on the improved facility, Indhrani, a mother of three daughters, who earns her living selling jasmine garlands said, “I am so grateful to the ODF movement which is considerate to poor women like us. I now feel a lot safer to step out leaving my daughters behind.”