When women join forces, a lot can be accomplished, it is said. Take the example of Lailavati Devi, a Swachhata Didi) from Mamta Self Help Group (JSLPS-SHG) of Barkadih gram panchayat in Manika block of Latehar district in Jharkhand. She motivated women to join hands for the cause of sanitation, so much so that they were willing to be trained in construction of toilets. Their efforts ensured that the whole community had access to toilets which they call Izzat Ghar or house of dignity.
Situated in the naxal belt, Latehar is home to two of the highest waterfalls namely Lodh Falls and Lower Ghaghri Falls and the Betla National Park. It is one of the country’s 250 most backward districts and one of the 24 districts in Jharkhand that is currently receiving funds from the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme.
Since the district is predominantly a hilly region covered by forests, accessibility is a challenge. There is a railway line passing through the district and people who wish to get off the train often have to pull the chain, before it stops. During the monsoons which are active in the region for about six months, commuting can be very difficult as people have to cross a river and vast forest area to get to the block headquarters.
As far as sanitation is concerned, having practiced open defecation for ages, people were used to going into the open area or jungle for their ablutions. They had to walk more than 300 metres to find a suitable spot. Since most people went out early in the morning, many of the women would wait until dark to relieve themselves so they could avoid being spotted upon. The situation was rather more challenging during the monsoon when they had to avoid puddles and at the same time watch out for snakes and insects.
At the start of the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBM-G) campaign in October 2014, sanitation coverage was barely 35.42%. The district administration carried out various awareness building and triggering exercises that emphasized the need to adopt safe sanitation practices. They pointed out the effects of open defecation on health and well being of the community.
Unfortunately, the men folk paid scant attention to the issue. On the other hand, the women began to take interest in the issue. Under the leadership of Lailavati Devi, they met and discussed sanitation issues, knowing that it was up to them to bring about behavior change in their families – as the men could not be relied upon to do the job.
They had the full support of the district administration that provided incentive and masonry training and connected them with SHGs to construct toilets.
Even as the women were being mobilized into the campaign, they faced some resistance from people, who were pessimistic and discouraging. Nevertheless, the women stuck together and went ahead with building their Izzat Ghars.
Owing to the last monsoon, toilet construction was delayed. However with 98% sanitation coverage in both the village and district level, they will be declared open defecation free soon. With nearly all of them having toilets now, the women are delighted. Our families never have to go out to answer nature’s call now, they said.
(Inputs from ZSBP-Latehar)