The sustainable development goals (Target 6.2) require India “by 2030, to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.”
Swachh Bharat Mission 2 .0 speaks of sustained behavioral change while embarking on the newer agendas of sustainable solid waste management and safe disposal of wastewater and reuse.
Planning, procurement, infrastructure creation, and monitoring are the basic tenets of implementation in Swachh Bharat and the guidelines for the first phase of the mission called for strengthening the role of women. The states were accordingly expected to ensure adequate representation of women in the village water and sanitation committees (VWSCs), leading to optimal gender outcomes.
The SBM-Grameen guidelines (Phase I) specifically recommended that 50 per cent of the members of VWSCs should be women. In several states, the guidelines were strictly adhered to. There were inevitably cases where women were fronts for spouses. This capturing has happened in panchayat seats as well but research has shown that over time, women do pick up the challenge, and if voted back are likely to assume charge. The government has also very effectively used over 8 lakh swachhagrahis, mainly women, who for small honorariums work to push through behavioural change at the community level.
There are no quick solutions other than adopting concerted approaches to ensure the survival and protection of the girl child through good health from sanitation and nutrition, and provision of water to liberate women from collecting water, and enabling their education. Fortunately, there are spirited instances of women leaders in sanitation: Uttara Thakur, a differently-abled panchayat head from Chhattisgarh, was determined to improve sanitation services in her village. She went door-to-door to motivate people to use toilets. Her contagious spirit mobilised the whole village to join hands and become open-defecation free.
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