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.


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 (

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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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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Five reasons why RURAL India will shape our global future

by Michael Connellan, Jeevika Trustee

Rural India is the world’s biggest poverty trap…

Despite rapid global urbanisation, the majority of the world’s poor are rural – and a huge proportion of them are rural Indians. India’s 600,000 villages are home to a quarter of a billion people living on less than a dollar, or 50p, per day.

…But rural India is getting educated. Fast.

Literacy rates are improving in rural India at twice the rate of urban India.

And village India is rapidly getting online…

Hundreds of millions of Indians remain without internet access. But the Indian government is proposing an $11bn (US) plan to get rural India online to boost the rural economy.

… nonetheless, basic resources – including clean water – are often unavailable even if mobile phones are

629 million people in rural India live without proper sewage systems. This lack of sanitation costs lives. Diarrhoea kills 1,600 people daily across the country.

Rural India’s hope lies in its grassroots democracy, which has much to teach us

In the 1990s, the Indian government introduced a law reserving spaces for women on every village panchayat, or council. Once the realm only of men, now women have the chance to slowly push for greater gender equality. Such greater equality could see more girls given an education – unleashing the power of women in rural India’s economy and lifting communities out of poverty.

Jeevika Trust is a UK charity supporting rural India. Please donate it a follow on Twitter  and a like on Facebook.

Jeevika Trust & the United Nations Shared Vision!

The end of May saw the unveiling of the final report of the UN’s High Level Panel, co-chaired by David Cameron, on what will replace the Millennium Development Goals during the next chapter from 2015 to 2030.

The 12 new Goals proposed in the UN’s report remind me of the 6 goals in Jeevika’s own Operating Plan for our work in village India during the coming 3 years, and what’s nice is the key aims that we share – ‘empowering girls and women’ is the UN’s no. 2 priority, and ‘universal access to water & sanitation’ is their no. 6.

India OoranieActually these are very closely linked, and we rate water & sanitation as the top of our ‘conditions for livelihood’ in the villages where we work: two particular examples are restoring traditional village water resources to stop women wasting half their days walking for water, and channelling rain water from school roofs to supply toilet and washing facilities dedicated for girls to stop them opting out of school.

India Ooranie

Ensuring health & nutrition are the UN’s new no. 4 and 5 Goals, and we see them as equally integral to village livelihood. For example, we support two of our Indian NGO partners providing specialised support to HIV/AIDS sufferers in Tamil Nadu, particularly women, while village seed banks and worm-composting techniques are two ways we help women to set up and maintain kitchen vegetable gardens for better family nutrition.

No. 8 of the new UN goals is ‘creating jobs and sustainable livelihoods’. Extra income generated by women through working in Self Help Groups typically finds its way to the heart of the family in a way that their husbands’ earnings don’t. In Orissa, one of India’s 3 poorest states, our projects for women’s honey-production, and for crab & prawn cultivation for export, are having measurable impacts on family well-being.

Prawn Cultivation Orissa

The phrase ‘Small is Beautiful’ constantly comes to mind when little organisations like Jeevika can contribute to universal development goals by leveraging their efforts through on-the-ground NGO partnerships and women’s groups  in village communities.

To support our diverse livelihood development projects follow this link…

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6th annual Walk for Water: Not just a walk in the park

Jeevika’s 2012 ‘Walk for Water’ on 30th September was a great success on quality, but thin on quantity! Our number of Walkers was well down from recent years, but those who did join us were excellent company: stalwart veterans like Carey and Emma, Jan, Debbie and Patricia, Richard and Vivi, as well as new faces: Jeanette with her daughters Sara and Jane and their families, Jenny with Bill and Julie, Clare from Church Grove, and others we hope to see again.

Better still, those who walked had really risen to the occasion with their sponsorship and between them raised over £1,500 from their various supporters.

This year’s Walk was the sixth we have done, but for the past 2 years we’ve faced a dilemma: make it tough or make it fun, or try to make it both? A fine afternoon’s walk through lovely parks and palaces and along the Thames can certainly be fun so why make it tough??

Well, it’s an effort to share what millions and millions of village women in India experience to fetch safe water for their families, walking up to 6 kms every day in the dry months – sometimes every night to avoid the heat – due to medieval standards of village water supply which Jeevika seeks to address.

Women get water in India

So we compromised – as you’ll read below. The day was organised by Emma and Becky: Emma has walked the past 2 years and kindly volunteered, despite her busy day job, to lead the preparations, and Becky, as our local community coordinator, tirelessly took on the local contacts, arrangements and publicity.

Thanks to our neighbour Graham Dillamore, who is Historic Royal Palaces’ senior estates manager, we were kindly allowed this year to pass through the Palace Gardens in order to get through to Long Water, thus reducing the long tramp round Barge Walk which we’ve done in previous years.

This time we all gathered at a fixed start point, the ‘Kcafe’ on the edge of Bushy Park, and by walking in one or two groups, we found it more sociable. There was also a carefully planned refreshment stop halfway round where the stragglers could catch up and stay together. And thereby hangs a tale! …..

Walk for Water

A shot from last year's 5th annual Walk for Water.

We’d decided to offer an extra boost to people’s sponsorships by providing 5-litre water containers for brave souls willing to carry them for the second half of the route in a poor imitation of what Indian village women do. But you try buying empty water containers! In the end Halfords’ fizzy blue windscreen-wash solution (NOT for drinking!) at £2.99 was the best bet and we lined up a few of these next to the drinks at the half-way point – for those who’d promised their sponsors to carry them.

But due to a little misunderstanding the leading group of walkers very nobly picked them up regardless, and even Sara’s 6 year old son William insisted on lugging one all the way back, even though it was almost half his size: he will go far!

Tea at the riverside Glass House was as delicious as ever, with Margaret’s lemon drizzle cake the highlight as in previous years – she’s a star. Becky’s idea of adding some ‘Indian sweets’ proved to be easier said than done – leading two of us up to Tooting to Pooja’s for gulab jamun, ras milai and other sticky sweets of all shapes and colours – an unforgettable shopping experience with half of London’s south Asians all politely jostling for sweets in advance of Diwali.

Walk for Water

A scene from last year's post-walk tea reception.

The weather was wonderful, and Jenny made a nice surprise speech about why, after successfully heading a big UK charity for young people, she’s been drawn to work voluntarily for Jeevika in leading our new strategic planning process, and then everyone slowly went off home – to use a memorable mistranslation by Gerard Hoffnung – “agreeably drunk and well fed-up”!

First photo courtesy of Public Media Texas.

Charity Begins at Home

Last Thursday, garden designer, Cleve West, delivered a talk in aid of Jeevika entitled ‘water-wise gardens’ to help us promote our forthcoming Walk for Water on 30 September and raise awareness of our water and sanitation projects in Orissa and Tamil Nadu.

Cleve West

It was a really enjoyable and fascinating evening. As well as generously donating his time, Cleve brought many of his friends, neighbours and clients to the event. His wide-ranging talk featured top tips on water management, lots of beautiful photos of his and colleagues’ award-winning work, and video footage of some really massive slugs! Keep an eye on our website for an event summary.

Cleve West

Cleve West Landscape Designer

Cleve is highly acclaimed; In his twenty-five year career he has won 7 gold medals and was overall winner of the Chelsea Flower Show both this year and last. Our link to him is Navigator House on Hampton Wick High Street; the office building that we both share.

Another one of our Navigator House neighbours, Graham, has recruited some really valuable volunteers to our cause, including Candace, who devised and manages this blog, and is now out in India using her many talents to support our Delhi partner, Schumacher Centre.

All this support on our own doorstep has led Andrew to remark that “charity begins at home”. It is a maxim that we must keep at the forefront of our minds, as our new Communities Consultant, Becky, co-ordinates our efforts to broaden and deepen our links in the Hampton Wick village so we can deliver livelihoods in the Indian village.

All that water and not a drop to drink…

Have we, here in the UK, been experiencing a monsoon? For people in some parts of the country there have been torrential downpours and uncontrollable depths of water – none of which is possible to trap or to drink.

Flooding in the UK

How would we feel if it happened every year of our lives?  Ruining our homes, spoiling our food, and making eating, sleeping and washing to keep clean impossible?

And, unlike the UK, all of this happening in unbearable steamy heat.

Millions of villagers in India experience the monsoon every year of their lives: mud houses and thatched roofs are damaged, children unable to go to school, livestock marooned or drowned, all tracks or roads out of the village under water and food difficult to access. There are no rescue teams here, no boats to help people to safety.

These are the people Jeevika works with: the poorest of the poor. 

Our water development projects with our partner organisations in Orissa and Tamil Nadu work with the villagers to dig large water catchments to help collect the water from the monsoon. This can then be used to water crops when the rain has stopped and to provide water for livestock.

Water development projects in India

To these ponds they sometimes add fish seedlings which grow into large fish that support their family’s nutrition and help generate a little income from the surplus of fish sold in the local market.

Fishing projects in India

We also provide water catchment tanks on the roofs of schools so that there is clean water for drinking and for the sanitation facilities we provide. The children use the harvested water on their vegetable gardens and trees which we sponsor in the school grounds so that they may learn to become self-sufficient and environmentally-aware.

Rainwater harvesting in India

It doesn’t solve all the problems that these villagers live with during and after the monsoon, but it does help.

Have you experienced any of the recent flooding in the UK? 

Flood image courtesy of Mango World Magazine.