DMPQ-“Women must be at the centre of India water and sanitation efforts.” Comment.

. There is a growing consensus now that whereas the statutory framework relating to sanitation is gender neutral in its approach, the policy framework does recognise gender-related issues. However, when it comes to implementation, it is evident that sanitation-related needs and vulnerabilities of women need to be better addressed. Examples such as women not being consulted in decisions taken on sanitation-related matters such as the building and use of toilets and failing to take into account the prevalent socio-cultural norms, which for generations have defined the status of women as one that needs to be protected from all forms of exposure, while, at the same time, forcing them to defecate in the open even if this is in groups, substantiate this contention.

Several research studies have indicated that girls drop out of schools due to inadequate sanitary facilities being provided especially during their menstruation periods. Facilities need to be provided — and their awkwardness needs to be addressed too.

Much work has been done to alter some of these norms and beliefs, with women clearly coming to the forefront to take charge of addressing their own needs, supported by various government schemes and non-governmental organisations.

In Odisha, women and transgender Self-Help Groups (SHGs) have been engaged in the operation and maintenance of treatment facilities in eight cities; in Jharkhand, trained women masons built over 15 lakh toilets in one year, and the state was declared open defecation free (rural) much ahead of the national cut-off date of October 2, 2019.

These examples are rapidly increasing throughout the country, with women being able to push through reforms that better their overall wellbeing either through the help of support groups or through community-led efforts. Water management, sanitary complexes that answer their needs, and a host of other requirements to help them in their daily lives are now being driven by them.

 

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