Planet 5050? Not in India…

by Lucy Ferrier, Marketing & Communications Manager at Jeevika Trust

Tuesday was International Women’s Day – a day dedicated not just to celebrating “the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women”  but also to promoting the need for accelerated change if women are to enjoy gender parity by 2030 – goal 6 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Group-of-women---optimised

Levels of gender equality vary drastically around the globe. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2015 report, Scandinavian countries like Iceland and Sweden are the clear winners, while countries in the Middle East, in particular, have much further to go – Yemen scores a measly 0.484 for gender equality, compared to Iceland’s 0.881.

In the last 5 years, India has struggled up 4 places on the Forum’s report from a lowly 114 out of 145 countries, to an unimpressive 108. When you consider that India is home to approximately 17% of the world’s women – around 600 million – the country’s score on the Index is alarming. Perhaps more alarmingly, India is conspicuously absent from the list of countries which made national commitments at a UN Conference last September to close the gender gap by 2030.

Discrimination against women in India is endemic. The practices of female foeticide and infanticide, though illegal, have resulted in a skewed population with only 943 women for every 1000 men – a telling statistic that shows the status of women in India. According to this article, more than 93k cases of violations of women’s rights have been made since 2012. Rape, sexual assault and domestic violence are sadly not uncommon. Women have to fight for the right to public spaces, to toilet facilities, to education, to paid work, to technology, to freedom, to respect – and in some case – to life.

An Indian woman

For women in rural areas – particularly those from lower castes and tribal communities – the fight is twice as hard. Jeevika’s priorities lie in the 600,000 villages where 7 out of 10 women lead their lives. Their challenges are radically different from those of women living in urban slums where rudimentary access to public services is greater; in the vast rural areas exposure to the elements, poor access to water and sanitation, poor food security, poor access to basic health services and education – just to name a few factors – combined with a low social standing means day-to-day life for millions of women is grinding.

We at Jeevika believe that women’s empowerment and equality is vital – not only for women, but for the development and progress of humankind. Our projects prove that, when women are empowered, the results are dramatic. By improving access to clean water, we stop women having to walk for hours each day to collect water for their families. By improving sanitation – helping communities to build toilets near their homes as well as gender-segregated toilet blocks in schools – we reduce the risk of diarrhoeal diseases, help girls to stay in school and stop women from having to defecate in the open, where – particularly at night – they are vulnerable to violence and sexual assault. By educating women and adolescent girls about sanitary and reproductive health, as well as improving access to sanitary napkins, we not only help to reduce the number of reproductive or urinary tract infections, but also help women to stay in work and girls to stay in school so that they can realise their full potential. By empowering women and providing them with income generation opportunities – from producing and marketing honey or sanitary napkins to growing and selling produce – we not only help women to increase their household income, but also to grow in self-confidence and to gain greater freedoms and greater respect within their communities.

Tribal women dancing

Help women in rural India realise their full potential by donating to Jeevika today:

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#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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Living with the Narikuravar

By Jeevika Trust’s former Communities Consultant, Becky Buchanan

Before I started working with Jeevika in 2012, I had spent the hot dusty summer of 2011 living with the gypsies on the temple-strewn plains of Tamil Nadu, India. Together we worked, danced and celebrated festivals, and we even got tattooed together. The recent blog documenting the work of Jeevika Trust and the Annai Mary Foundation with a different branch of this tribe brought back many memories as romantic as an Enid Blyton story.

Becky Buchanan with a Narikuravar babyI was a volunteer at the Narikuravar Education and Welfare Society. As team leader I strategised the approach to capacity building for the NGO, mainly in the fields of English grammar and social media, livelihood development for women and holistic education for the school children.

The Narikuravar gypsies are happy to capitalise on their mystical image, and travel to sell home-crafted cures for everything from baldness to impotence, as well as religious necklaces known as mala. These can signify a variety of blessings, from marriage to talismans with nine colours symbolising the 9 planets in harmony.

A Narikuravar Girl - Indian Gypsy childThis industrious self-employment is not without its problems. Locally, school children have to achieve 85% attendance to graduate to the next year, but with family welfare an immediate priority children commonly repeat 1st grade five times, then leave.

Discrimination remains rife from the local community who have been settled for longer. The stigma means it is hard to find other work and contributes to a continuing cycle of alcoholism, domestic violence and early marriage.

I had the joy of living beside a hostel for children to attend school whilst their parents worked. After work, I played games with the kids, applied basic first aid and gave them what they really needed – love and attention.

Narikuravar education teaching childrenThe Narikuravar culture persists through years of persecution. As the men pay dowry to marry (the opposite of wider Indian culture) women are more respected – they even had a lady shaman priest at one Kali sacrifice festival I went to! Dreams and symbolism are vital to daily life. The vagriboli language has no written dictionary yet shares roots with the Roma language.

The work of Jeevika Trust respects the Narikuravar’s traditional way of life whilst equipping people with skills and options for self-improvement and health. By donating today, you can help Narikuravar women and their families access health care, improve their nutritional health and enjoy a better, more sustainable future.

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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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World Toilet Day 2014

1.5 million children die in India every year from diarrhoea.

Last week we ‘celebrated’ World Toilet Day (19 November). What does your toilet look like? Is there a mirror? What colour is the rug? Is it en-suite? Is it in the open beside a railway line or in the field behind your school? Jeevika Trust build toilets in India’s villages and schools.

Our projects are changing things for the 23% of Indian adolescent girls who drop out of school when they hit puberty due to a lack of toilet facilities. With rooftop rainwater harvesting systems we have a simple eco-friendly technology that fits the local context, and doesn’t drain low groundwater reserves.

india toilet

India is a land of contradiction – nearly half the 1.2 billion population defecate in the open, but more than half have a mobile phone. People in the West find it hard to understand how money can be poured into providing water and sanitation for years, yet still the need is so great. It is true Indian government grants have funded the building of toilets for the majority of people below the poverty line. But these builds are of poor quality, and there has been little spent on promoting awareness of hygienic practise in the community.

We work with our five trusted grassroots NGO partners on hygeine awareness workshops. Despite a renewed dedication by the new Indian Prime Minister Nahendra Modi to provide toilets for all, this cannot happen without experienced support from the NGO sector to change cultural attitudes.

When you donate to Jeevika Trust you give dignity and health, so if you’re feeling flush don’t get bogged down in guilt and donate here now.

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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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Can better sanitation reduce rape in India?

The Badaun rape case has shocked the world, with the disturbing image of the teenage girls hanging in the tree being shared millions of times on social media.  It has highlighted once again the fact that the Indian Government has done little or nothing to address the sanitation needs of poor women in rural India. 

india toiletTwo girls stepped out of their house in Katra Village in Uttar Pradesh on a hot May night, two months ago to relieve themselves in the fields- just like millions of other women in the country do. They never returned and their bodies were found hanging from a mango tree in the village the next morning.

A postmortem examination confirmed that the girls had been raped and died from strangulation as they were hanged while still alive. The girls belonged to a Dalit family, who are the poorest of the poor, illiterate or semi literate with little or no assets. The alleged perpetrators, who were arrested only after a public outcry and the local police officials investigating the crime, belonged to a higher class.

The incident has once again raised the specter of poor or no sanitation in villages. Lack of basic facilities, like toilets inside every household, is a root cause of several social and health related problems not only for women but also for men.

According to the 2011 census, 53 percent of households in India did not have toilets. The figure was much higher in the rural areas, almost 70 percent.

Several reports have indicated that a high number of rape incidents take place when women defecate in open fields. Women unlike men can step out of their houses only when it is dark, as extra responsibilities inside and outside their homes, family size (most families are at least seven to eight in number) and cramped surroundings do not give them the privacy for their ablutions.

Access to proper toilets, preferably inside each and every household, will help women maintain a measure of basic dignity and of course privacy. This in turn will reduce the risk of any such untoward incidents. Many parents pull girl children out of schools, as soon as they reach puberty, as most Government owned educational institutions have poor or no sanitation facilities.

india toiletLack of sanitation can lead not to only rape and assault but also health hazards. A number of health related issues including diseases like Urinary Track Infection (UTI), constipation and poor menstrual hygiene are a consequence of lack of sanitation.

While building toilets are important and a pressing need, it is important to generate awareness about hygiene and sanitation, especially among youth and adolescent women.

Jeevika Trust through its partners in Tamil Nadu and Orissa have constructed toilets in schools and homes and provided facilities such as overhead tanks and pipes and faucets to ensure running water and promote proper hygiene among students, adolescent girls and rural women.

 During the election campaign, Narendra Modi made a statement ‘pehle shauchalya, phir devalaya’ (toilets first, temple later). Now, with a Prime Minister who purports to understands the importance of toilets, it is important that the newly elected Government prioritizes this issue, and builds toilets in private and public spaces to end open-air defecation.

Support Jeevika Trust in building toilets and providing young girls and women the dignity, security and privacy they are entitled to.

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