#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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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

 

TO USE SNAPS or TO NOT USE SNAPS, that is the question!

THE WORD SNAPS is Jeevika’s working acronym for sanitary napkins. We currently support our Indian partner, Jeevan Rekha Parishad (www.jrpsai.org) to work with Tribal women in the Chandaka Forest Area of Odisha, to produce cotton, machinery-made, eco-disposable SNAPS. Formed into
Self-Help Groups, these women will make and sell the SNAPS to local women and make them available in schools for pubescent girls, while helping the women generate income to improve family life.
Adolescent girls in India, teenage girls in India, menstruation, sanitary healthWe already know that 73% of the women JRP surveyed use – and re-use – cloth during menstruation. Nearly 50% of these women were from impoverished village families. The survey also revealed that 66.7% of adolescent girls who use cloth develop Reproductive Tract Infections from the use of unhygienic recycled cloth. Almost 100% of girls surveyed, learned about menarche (onset of menstruation) only after it occurred. It is well-documented that girls who have access to SNAPS are less likely to drop-out from school or contract Reproductive Tract Infections.

JRP and the Jeevika Team – and Monsoon Trust who are funding this 1-year pilot project – believe this is an excellent opportunity to improve the understanding of health & hygiene issues and to trial safe modes of eco-friendly/discreet disposal of SNAPS within five high schools using either incinerators, burial or burning located within a target area of 25 villages.

THERE IS a counter argument in circulation: In July 2015, Sinu Joseph of Mythri Speaks Trust (www.mythrispeaks.org) posted a provocative blog on Swarajya titled ‘Why India doesn’t need the sanitary napkin revolution’.

While this article does raise a number of important issues related to the way menstruation is being addressed in India, it over-simplifies the matter of SNAPS and their use v.s. non-use. What is true is that outside India we do tend to judge menstrual practices in India as being poor or unsanitary because they don’t conform to a sanitized western ideal; just as it is true that we must allow women to decide for themselves.

Joseph criticises the media on the subject of menstruation: ‘you will find horror stories of how only 12% of Indian women are using sanitary napkins and that the others are almost dying from lack of access to such products…of the poor Indian girl in a village who is dropping out of school because she suddenly started her period…how India is full of superstitions and menstrual taboos that are coming in the way of us breaking free and embracing our body…and sanitary napkins.’ In reality, we think these ‘stories’ are not too far from the truth.

Joseph makes other criticisms: of the statistics and claims made by major NGOs and international organisations who ‘look down upon indigenous women who for generations have bled naturally without using any product’ – a comment of extraordinary complacency given women’s rights in a fast changing world.

To establish what the women we work with want, we at Jeevika working with JRP, will continue to give women – and particularly school-girls – the opportunity to freely trial hygienic, eco-friendly SNAPS and choose for themselves whether they do or do not use SNAPS! Once the pilot project is complete, we will share this information with you.

Menstrual Health India

Help Jeevika Trust to support, sustain and expand
Project SNAPS
by donating now

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Crab and Prawn Farming

This story was told to Geraldine, a volunteer for Jeevika Trust who visited India courtesy of innocent foundation.  Thank you Geraldine and innocent! 

Project Eco works with impoverished tribal families in the ecologically-vulnerable Chilika Lake Lagoon. Its goal is to develop sustainable lagoon-linked livelihoods such as crab, fish and prawn cultivation.

Santi is one of the women who has benefitted from the project. With JRP support she has started a prawn farming activity.

india story

“My name is Santi. It means ‘peace’ in Hindi. I am 52 years old and I have one son and two daughters. One daughter is married, but not the other one. She is still at school. I used to have two sons but one died three years ago. The other one is independent, he works and earns money to feed his own family. I also have five younger brothers, whom my husband helped to get educated. Now they are settled in various positions in Bhubaneshwar [Orissa state’s capital, 3 hours’ drive away from the village] and they don’t come to visit. Even though they grew up in the village, they don’t care how we live. I feel very sad about the situation.

Before JRP started the project in my village, I wasn’t working. I was dependent on my husband, who works outside the village but earns very little money.

After Renoo [project coordinator from JRP] came and spoke about prawn and crabs cultivation, I joined a self-help group and was able to invest 5000 Rs towards crab cultivation. I learned the skills to cultivate crabs and prawns, and also learned how to increase banana and coconut production. Since the project started a year and a half ago, I made 70,000 Rs profit. Now I feel very rich.

Fattened crabs are hand picked for harvest

Every day, I wake up at 5 in the morning. I first send my children to school then look after the crabs and prawns cultivation. I have lunch at 10am, then snacks at 4 and dinner at 8. I do all the family work in the morning and then I am free. In my spare time, I plan where I need to invest my money and what I need to buy.

My life has changed now: I used to have a thatched home, now I have a cemented home. Only the ceiling is still thatched. I also opened a stationery shop, which is looked after by my daughter-in-law. Thanks to all these activities, I was identified by the government of Odisha [Indian state in which Santi lives] as someone who could be trusted to make things happen so got extra help from them.

We save the extra money in the bank and I can use that money when needed. I don’t need to ask the other women for money. I didn’t have to ask them for money when my daughter’s husband died three months ago. He was a fisherman and disappeared. It was tragic.

I have hopes for the future: I hope I can build a cemented ceiling on my house. I also hope my son and daughters will get educated and don’t have to depend on anyone.”

Crab and prawn farming are some of the most profitable activities on the island, producing commodities which can be exported to foreign countries.

To support our partner JRP in continuing to establish Self-Help Groups in village India please donate now

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Bees in the Big Picture

21 July 2014  Today is the day that Jeevika delivered its final report to the UK Department for International Development (DfID).  This told the story of what we’ve achieved over the past 2 years with the £64,000 grant it gave us to promote sustainable livelihoods among some of India’s poorest villagers in the state of Odisha, one of India’s three poorest states.

It enabled us to select, train, fund and empower 300 women to become skilled bee-keepers and effective producers and marketers of honey. We hope this successful pilot project will now be expanded to other parts of Odisha and indeed into other states where we work.

This grant was paid directly to Jeevika who applied it to ‘Project Madhu Network’ which was implemented by our Indian NGO partner Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP) based on the detailed project which we designed with them and obtained DfID funding for in 2010.

The numbers tell the basic story:

  • Prior to the project some of the women were collecting an average of 7.5 kgs per year of wild honey from the nearby forests (selling it in an unfiltered state, in unsterilized plastic drink bottles for a few Rupees where they could get it)
  • DfID’s grant allowed 750 bee colonies to be set up via 25 women’s Self-Help Group in ten villages comprised of 300 beekeepers + 60 other villagers (men and women) who were involved in related activities
  • By the end of the two-year project, the 300 beekeepers were producing an average of 36 kgs of honey from 3 hives each (this also included a little wild honey), as well as related products like wax and creams, generating an average income of £276 each per year and allowing 250 out of 300 women to access wholesale honey markets.

But there’s a bigger picture – in fact two bigger pictures! - extending far beyond the direct livelihood benefits of the villagers who participated in the project.

The first extends to the local community within Odisha, where the project has created waves of interest among state government, academic and other circles. A high-profile Honey Fair was organised by JRP in Bhubaneshwar the state capital on 24-25 March 2013 to publicise the Madhu project and promote development of bee-keeping as a village livelihood model in Odisha.

This fair was supported by state ministers for horticulture, agriculture and tribal affairs along with the National Bank for Agricultural & Rural Development  and the Odisha University for Agriculture & Technology.  JRP has joined with state government agencies to help support expansion of the Project Madhu model.

Three bee nurseries  have been established in the project area to address shortage of bee stocks to start hives, and the state Department for Horticulture has pledged support to establish further such nurseries. The University has established a pool of 50 apiarists to train new bee-keepers, and a bee help-line has been opened up to provide technical support to farmers on bee-keeping and crop pollination.  JRP has also published beekeeping manuals in Orya, in other tribal languages and a pictorial version of the manual.

Come back next week to read part 2 of the honey story

To help fund the expansion of Project Madhu Network

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SANITATION – enabling hygeine, dignity & security

Jeevika Trust works in villages that do not have sanitation systems of any kind. Open fields and non-farmable wooded areas are their lavatories. Men and boys relieve themselves during the day. To maximise privacy, women relieve themselves at night. Mothers and fathers accompany their small children but, when young boys and girls are old enough, they go alone. Night-time presents a dangerous situation for adolescent boys, girls and women – and an opportunity for deprived (if not depraved) men who seek illicit sexual pleasure or retribution – as the Badaun rape case highlighted in our blog demonstrates.

women toilet india

Our partners - WORD in Tamil Nadu and JRP in Odisha – work closely with families to bring hygiene, dignity and security to village life. Both partners train women and men to build toilets for themselves. This involves learning how to make latrines, construct toilet shelters with hand-made bricks, fit toilet pans and doors, and paint and line walls with tiles. Due to the scarcity of water, the toilet is serviced by using water from a bucket to sluice the waste away. By western standards, this is still a basic form of sanitation. For villagers living in remote villages, owning your own toilet is close to luxury.

JRP also provides sanitation facilities in schools. This includes a system of water collection tanks which catch the monsoon rain and makes it available for drinking as well as for use in the school latrines with links to a wash basin so that children may wash their hands. Toilets in schools are vital in attracting and keeping pubescent girls at school. The education of a pubescent girl ends when school toilets are not available.

girls school india

Eco Clubs are also formed in these schools for students to learn about the environmental cycle and enables them to use water, soil, seeds and saplings to plant out their own kitchen garden and provide shade within the school grounds. The fruit and vegetables they produce contribute to the midday meal the school provides (often an incentive for poor parents to send their children to school). In these ways, children learn about hygiene, the value of privacy, and the need for environmental sustainability.

 

Help villagers build more toilets & water harvesting systems

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How WALKING can help!

Remember Cyclone Phailin?  How it caused devastation last October in the State of Orissa?  Of particular concern to Jeevika and its partner, Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP), was the damage and devastation it created on the Island of Berhampur.  Situated in the Chilika Lagoon and bordered by the Bay of Bengal, it is here that JRP works with the 2,800 island villagers to generate income through the cultivation of crabs and prawns, bananas, peanuts, coconuts and vegetables.  The impact of Cyclone Phailin left many of these activities needing to start again.  The project’s funder – www.innocentfoundation.org – generously donated more funds to restore the project.

When JRP staff – together with Jeevika’s India Coordinator and Programme Officer -visited the island to review the project and the cyclone’s damage, we discovered that many houses had lost their thatched roofs and families were without resources to replace them.  The government provided bags of rice, but not roofs.

cyclone phailin

As we walked past paddy fields and large crab ponds – both heavily flooded – we came upon Mr Rankanidhi Bhoi sitting outside his home, crying.  75 years old, his limbs paralysed for the last five years, he said: ‘My Heaven has lost my home.  How will my family survive?’