#HappyToBleed – breaking menstrual taboos in India

By Lucy Ferrier, Marketing & Communications Manager at Jeevika Trust

Towards the end of 2015, a comment made by the head of the famous Sabarimala temple in Kerala  - which has a blanket entry ban for women aged between 10 and 50 – sparked a heavy backlash from hundreds of young Indian women. Discussing whether the ban (which is in place to ensure that no menstruating women enter the temple) would ever be lifted, Prayar Gopalakrishnan said: “There will be a day when a machine is invented to scan if it is the ‘right time’ for a woman to enter the temple. When that machine is invented, we will talk about letting women inside”. A teenage girl from Odisha

Menstruation remains a taboo in India, but a new generation of young women refuses to accept these entrenched views; in response to Gopalakrishnan’s comment, hundreds of women took to social media after the launch of the #HappyToBleed campaign. On its Facebook page, the movement describes itself as a “counter campaign launched against menstrual taboos, and sexism that women are subject to through it. It acknowledges menstruation as a natural activity which doesn’t need curtains to hide behind”. #HappyToBleed’s founder, Nikita Azad said: “Shaming menstruation is a sign of patriarchy.”

Though #HappyToBleed was launched in response to the Sabarimala temple’s ban on menstruating women, it is a reaction to a much wider issue. Traditionally, menstruating women are considered “unclean” and are often banned from praying or cooking ; in some rural communities, women are sent to gaokors – huts outside the village – while they are menstruating. A reproductive health & hygiene sessionThis historic and deeply-ingrained taboo has an enormous impact on women – over 20% of girls drop out of school permanently at puberty and Reproductive Tract Infections (RTIs) are rife, particularly in rural areas, due to the lack of availability of proper sanitary products. There is even an indication that unsanitary practices during menstruation, for example re-using cloth and using ashes or sand to aid absorption, increases the risk of cervical cancer – according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) India accounts for 27% of the world’s cervical cancer deaths and the incidence rate there is almost twice the global average “with poor menstrual hygiene partly to blame”.

A nationwide survey of women indicated that 70% can’t afford sanitary napkins, with only 2% of the rural population using them despite the fact that three quarters of Indians still live in rural areas. Jeevika Trust is proud to support the improvement of menstrual health of women and adolescent girls from tribal communities in Odisha; through our Project SNAPS, delivered by our partner organisation Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP), we support Self-Help Groups of women to produce and market low-cost, eco-disposable sanitary napkins (SNAPS) which not only addresses their personal sanitary needs, but allows them to generate a small income from their activities. A SHG member producing SNAPSThese napkins are also made available to adolescent girls to help keep them in school, and women and girls receive reproductive health education. Overall, the project is helping over 5,000 women and girls. Unfortunately, lack of access to sanitary napkins is only half the problem – poor access to proper sanitation facilities and gender-segregated toilets is also a huge issue, but we’re tackling this through our Project PANI.

Through better education on reproductive health and hygiene, we hope to help break the taboos surrounding menstruation, and through providing women with SNAPS (sanitary napkins)  and improving access to toilet facilities we hope to improve levels of health, reduce RTIs and allow girls to remain in education. As Muruganantham, the man who famously pioneered machinery to produce low-cost sanitary napkins in Tamil Nadu and who this week received the prestigious Padma Shri award for his work, said, “Why buy sanitary napkins from multinationals when we can make them at home and generate employment?”.

To support the expansion of Project SNAPS, please click on the link below to donate:

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WATER & SANITATION – some hard facts

by Judith Crosland, Programmes Manager at Jeevika Trust

INDIA has a population of over one billion people and is home to 17% of the world’s population. The divide between rich and poor is huge:  25% of its people still live in poverty.

Did you know that…

  • 76 m don’t have access to safe water?

  • 774 m don’t have access to adequate sanitation?

  • 140K children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water & poor sanitation?

Project PANI is one of a series of water & sanitation initiatives implemented by our partner organisation, Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP) to help alleviate these problems in the remote Tribal villages of Pankua and Phularaas, neither of which had clean, safe water or sanitation prior to JRPs work with the local villagers (www.jrpsai.org).

A restored pond     Working in Odisha with 100 Tribal households and the local primary school, JRP and the villagers will together restore their large pond.  Once the pond is dredged and its boundaries strengthened ready for the next monsoon, its water will be harvested to support village agriculture & household kitchen gardens.  The villagers will also cultivate fish in the pond to contribute to food security and improve local nutrition.

A newly-built village toiletAlready water from the pond services the new toilets being provided to each family and to the village  school.

Village children and their parents now understand how important it is to maintain hygiene for their good health – and already these two villages have won a local government ‘Clean Village Award’. 

A sign encouraging good hygiene

A disused well

A disused well awaiting restoration

A new village hand pump

A new handpump provides safe water for household drinking & cooking

A female beekeeper

Women villagers now grow vegetables and produce honey and the family diet benefits from improved nutrition as a result of better access to water and skill-based training.

Women grow vegetables

If you would like Jeevika to help JRP replicate
this valuable initiative in more remote villages, click below!

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The buzz about beekeeping

by Lucy Ferrier, Marketing & Communications Manager at Jeevika Trust

A female beekeeper in Odisha India

It’s fair to say that village beekeeping and honey production has become one of Jeevika Trust’s best-proven projects, and it’s easy to see why. It’s low-cost, environmentally friendly, locally-appropriate and allows the women who take part to build sustainable livelihoods which not only benefit them, but their families and villages too. There’s lots of evidence to show that empowering women and giving them ownership over income generation helps to lift entire communities out of poverty, and the women themselves gain greater respect within society.

Aside from income generation, beekeeping has other, much wider benefits (you may be interested to read our Executive Director’s two-part blog “Bees in the big picture”). It is widely noted that bees are vital to life on earth, pollinating 70 of the 100 crop species which give us 90% of our food worldwide and making enormous contributions to the health of the eco-system.

Beekeeping 5 JRP.pngThrough our largest beekeeping project, the Madhu Network Project, village crop yields were doubled, providing additional nutrition for the community and allowing women to generate extra income through selling surplus produce. Though the majority of honey produced through the project is sold, some is consumed by the family, providing another highly-nutritious supplement (did you know that honey is the only food in the world that contains all of the nutrients vital to sustaining life?).

Between markedly increasing household income, improving crop yields, contributing to nutritional health and more widely to the health of the environment, the benefits of this kind of project are clear. We work to the ethos that “Small is Beautiful”, and beekeeping couldn’t be a better example of this – tiny honeybees and small-scale beekeeping can make a big difference to impoverished communities.

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in IndiaWe’ve been supporting village beekeeping projects in rural India for ten years, directly benefiting hundreds of women and, as a result, thousands of family and community members (and let’s not forget the environment!). The UK government supported the Madhu Network Project, but our hopes of their support in expanding the initiative were impacted by DfID’s decision to remove India from its main aid programme. We have been fortunate to receive three smaller grants to help with the expansion of this project to villages and women we’ve already identified, but we are always seeking new funding to support this tried-and-tested, infinitely replicable project. To strengthen the project further, we also want to take honey marketing “to the next level” to help the women access larger markets and generate a better return.

That’s why we’ve recently launched our “Sweetest Gift” appeal to raise funds towards the expansion of the project, benefitting more women (and, as a result, family members and the wider community), and giving them a helping hand out of a life of poverty and dependency. To find out more about the appeal and to donate, please click on the image below.

Campaign logo - final - transparent smaller

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Eliminating open defecation: More to it than meets the eye

by Priya Anand, India Co-ordinator at Jeevika Trust

November the 19th was World Toilet Day, an international day used to highlight vast global inequality when it comes to sanitation. Of the 2.3 billion people in the world who lack access to adequate sanitation, approximately a third (over 770 million) are in India, where open defecation (OD) is still widely practised. Over 50% of people in India either don’t use, or don’t have access to, a toilet.

 

The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), launched last year, aims to catalyse a nationwide commitment towards hygiene and sanitation and help generate lasting behaviour change among the people. Its goal is to eliminate OD from India by October 2019. While it is too early to say if it has been successful, the mission has not addressed several serious issues.

For one, the assumption that behaviour of rural populace will change once toilets are provided is an erroneous one. Can poor sanitation among the rural populace be equated to just open defecation or is there more to the problem?

Yes, there is a widespread resistance to using toilets among rural communities. Many people prefer defecating in the open, because of the erroneous belief that it is healthier. Deeply-engrained social and spiritual beliefs dictate toilet practices and many people believe that it is religiously pure, and socially acceptable, to put faeces far from one’s own house.

 

Several subsidy schemes identical to SBM have been introduced since 1999; over 9.5 crore (95 million) rural toilets have been constructed under the Total Sanitation Campaign and Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. Yet, the Census shows only an 11% reduction in rural OD between 2001 and 2011. Studies show that in 20-49% of even those households which have toilets within the house, at least one member defecates in the open. The same studies also show that, apart from sheer non-availability of toilets, other reasons for OD are the poor quality, inadequate numbers and poor maintenance of toilets or lack of water supply.

The status of faecal treatment and disposal is also abysmal. Just about 34% of the population’s latrines are connected either to septic tanks or underground sewerage; the rest have pit latrines where the waste decomposes, usually in unhealthy conditions. Local bodies provide little or no services for septic tank cleaning. An informal industry flourishes to fill this gap and private septic tank emptiers dump this polluting waste on any available empty lot or water body. Therefore despite usage of toilets, land and drinking water sources remain contaminated. Over 3 lakh (300,000) children die due to diarrhoea each year.

IMG_0877Jeevika Trust in its mission to build toilets and change people’s behaviour in Odisha and Tamil Nadu provides end-to-end solutions. This has been done through rigorous community outreach and education, innovative toilets designs (bio toilets using bacterial digesters that decompose faecal matter in a swift and efficient manner), commitment to quality construction materials, repairing of bore wells and water pumps, provision of piped water supply – where possible from rainwater harvested on school roof-tops - and, most importantly, providing a sustainable solution that community members both value and use. In addition, Jeevika Trust plans to evaluate the impact they have on increasing toilet usage and, by extension, reducing instances of open-defecation.

Support Jeevika in its work to reduce open defecation and help rural communities understand the importance of healthy sanitation habits.

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[1] http://thewire.in/2015/09/27/only-a-change-in-government-behaviour-can-clean-up-india-11318/

[2] http://www.communityledtotalsanitation.org/sites/communityledtotalsanitation.org/files/media/Challenges_of_behavior_change_%20in_rural_north_India.pdf

Can India go “Swachh”?

by Priya Anand, India Co-ordinator at Jeevika Trust

The latest statistics from the Indian Government indicate that 89 Lakh (8.9 million) individual household toilets have been built in rural areas in the last year.  To accelerate the efforts to achieve universal sanitation coverage and to put focus on sanitation, Prime Minister Modi launched the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission on 2nd October, 2014.  The push in rural areas has increased the access of toilets to 46.9% from only 32.6% in 2011 across the country.

JRP village toilet OdishaUrban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu, claiming that Swachh Bharat is the “mother of all new missions”, said that changing the mind-set and attitude of people remains the biggest challenge.  States like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana have performed better in respect of construction of individual household toilets, while other states have lagged behind or are still to begin construction.[1]

 

Solid household waste management is a key component of the mission in urban areas, and till August this year, 100 percent door to door collection of municipal household solid waste (for example plastics, styrofoam containers, bottles, cans, papers, scrap iron, and other rubbish) has been reported in 31,593 of the total 78,003 municipal wards and the mission is on course to achieve the target of door to door collection of 50 percent of solid household waste by March.  17 percent of 1.42 lakh (142,000) tonnes of solid waste generated is being processed as against the target of 35 percent.

Segregated toilet blockRecognising the need for improved sanitation, Jeevika has supported its Indian NGO partners in toilet construction and has constructed over 185 individual village toilets in Odisha and 8 gender-segregated toilet blocks in village schools both in Odisha and Tamil Nadu since 2008. Women’s Organisation for Rural Development (WORD) in Tamil Nadu will soon start an anti-plastic and waste management programme in select schools in Namakkal District.

Please support Jeevika’s efforts to promote “Swachh” by donating today. Click the link below to make your donation.

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[1] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/89-lakh-toilets-built-in-rural-India-in-1-year-govt-says/articleshow/49190269.cms

 

CELEBRATE BEES, HONEY – and the NEW YEAR!

Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP) - our partner based in Odisha State on the north-east coast of India, with support from the UK Dept. for International Development – has been working for the last two years with 300 Tribal women in ten villages to produce honey.  

Traditionally these women and their menfolk collected honey from wild forest bees.  They would sell this unfiltered honey in unsterilized plastic bottles by the roadside in the hope of making a few meagre rupees.

Today the women are formed into Self-Help Groups which collect honey from the apis mellifera bee which produces it honey in wooden bee boxes made by village youths.  Together the women pool, filter, package and label the honey ready for sale in their village as well as in the local market and in other retail outlets.

For the first time, women are now able to generate an income, bank a percentage of their profits and use the balance as household income.  As a result, food consumption and family health has improved, many more children attend school and the women have gained confidence and now contribute more to family and village decision-making.

Bee keeper

The 300 women beekeepers also hold an annual Honey Fair – having now formed a Women’s Beekeeping Association – to market their honey and promote its use: it soothes sore throats, coughs and colds; and it is used in the Hindu Pūjā, a prayer ritual performed to host, honour and worship one or more deities, or to spiritually celebrate an event.  It is also used in cooking and as a food.

Since the apis mellifera bee has been introduced into their villages, the women and the local farmers have discovered that the amount and quality of their vegetables and crops like mustard and maize have improved enormously.  These villagers know better than anyone that – without the precious bee in our lives – essential vegetables and food crops would no longer be possible.

We at Jeevika now invite you to help us Celebrate Bees, their golden Honey and the New Year by making yourself a Strawberry Granola Parfait!

 Strawberry Granola Yoghurt Parfait

  • Slice a few strawberries (or banana, mango or other seasonal fruit) and mix with a little orange juice.
  • Take a few tablespoons of low fat yoghurt (or curd, as it is known in India) and mix with two teaspoons of honey (or more if you want it sweeter).
  • Break a few bars of Granola into small chunks.
  • Arrange alternate layers of fruit, yoghurt & honey, and granola chunks in a tall glass.
  • Chill in the refrigerator.  Enjoy!  Celebrate!!

 

To help JRP continue to enable Tribal women villagers to become self-sufficient beekeepers please go to

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Cyclone Phailin EMERGENCY RELIEF Appeal

Jeevika Trust is issuing an urgent appeal for donations after Cyclone Phailin struck the coast of eastern India on Saturday 12 October causing large-scale devastation within island communities that Jeevika supports there.

The cyclone has disrupted the lives of thousands of Indian villagers living around the Chilika Lake sea lagoon on the coast of Odisha state – an area where Jeevika has over the past 3 years established a valued presence supporting village livelihoods on the two islands of Mahinsa and Berhampur.  With 15 foot waves and 250 kmph winds the ‘shelter-belts’ of coconut and banana trees which have protected the villages have been largely uprooted, thatched houses flattened, boats smashed, fishing nets lost, goats and cows killed and kitchen gardens destroyed.

Our local partner organisation, Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP) has been working in the Chilika Lake area for many years.  Traditional fishing livelihoods had been decimated by pollution flowing into the lake and this had already caused widespread unemployment.  But JRP has managed to save many island families in the area from poverty by building the capacity of women to cultivate crabs, prawns and fish in island ponds which catch the monsoon water.

In a country which was recently ranked among the five worst in the world in which to be female,
this project has enabled women islanders to achieve a degree of independence, helping them to contribute to household income. In the aftermath of Cyclone Phailin, this exciting progress in the Chilika Lake community is now severely threatened.

Many ponds are now seriously damaged and the crabs, prawns and fish swept back into the sea and homes destroyed have left villagers living with neighbours or squatting in cyclone shelters.

Please – give what funds you can to help us rescue the Chilika Lake community from slipping back into extreme poverty.

The good news is that our crab project offers a strong framework for the area to rebuild. But it needs your help.

Please donate here.