Toilet construction: Women make inroads into male bastion, don the role of ‘sanitation technicians’

With women donning the role of ‘Swachhata Shilpis’ or ‘sanitation technicians’ in Gujarat, one more male bastion has yielded to the woman power.
Anjan Makim, state director of Rural Self Employment Training Institute (RSETI), asked about 30 women who were given a 10-day training workshop on toilet construction for women, “Who used to do this task before?”and the women gamely shouted back, “men, but now we will construct toilets in our villages ourselves. Give us the grant and we will start making toilets tomorrow.”
These voices were from a valedictory function for women who hail from 10 different self- help groups (SHGs) from Ghoda, Hansalpur, Kumarkhan, Ogan, Sachana, Shahpur, Vekharia villages nearby. The function was recently held at a student hostel for boys at the edge of Kamijala village in Viramgam Taluka.
Present at the session were Manjula Mathiya, sarpanch; Dipikaben Parmar, Taluka Livelihood Manager, District Rural Development Agency and Kumar Abhishek, Director of Dena Rural Self Employment Training Institute that conducts RSETI training in Ahmedabad district.
The trainers drive home the point that while the cost of construction material is around Rs 8,000, the women can get the rest as labour cost and eke out a livelihood doing masonry work. The training is recapped with slogans like Pela Mann Banavo, pachi toilet Banavo (First convince people then construct toilets). APL (Above Poverty Line) families get Rs 8,000 and BPL (Below Poverty Line) ones get Rs 12,000 that is inclusive of labour and material cost as per the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) format.
Kamijala village, located 80 kms from Ahmedabad, is a largely agrarian village. Kamijala needs 900 new toilets with around 1.900 households.
A group of 10 women from this village have no toilets. The group flips through a manual in Gujarati that explains how to construct a toilet. Later they trudge to Narmadaben Parmar’s house across the road where they have built the first pilot toilet with their own hands in five days.
Words like izzat (honour) for chhokri (daughter) are bandied, as many women cite a recent accident in a nearby village Lakhtar where a truck mowed down a woman defecating on the side of the highway.
Narmadaben’s mother-in-law Puriben picks up the banter and says, “Daily we have to leave at 6 am to defecate and it is tough during winters and the monsoon season. You have to take people to accompany you as it is very far from home. I have to accompany my daughter if she wants to go in the evening. We have to take a torch and go. Although there is a toilet-bathroom in the house it is used by my son and his wife, we wanted a separate one as we are senior citizens.”
Her hearing and speech challenged sister-in-law Bhavna poses for a photo in front of the newly built toilet, even as Narmadaben who runs a small grocery shop says, “Men are usually easy to convince, it’s the women who are tough. Women say they feel claustrophobic to defecate in a toilet. Attitudes need to change as despite many houses here having toilets, many tie their goats there and keep it as storage and still defecate in the open.”
It also helps that Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel has espoused building of toilets for every household right from the beginning of her tenure, giving it a ‘pet project’ status.
SHG member Jassiben Parmar says, “Toilets will have to be cleaned and that’s where the real work will begin and we will do it. I have four girls so making toilets is most important for my girls as it will ensure their safety.”
Jayanti S Ravi, Commissioner and Principal Secretary of Rural Development, Government of Gujarat recently said, “We have started a programme called Swachhata Shilpis. We have an excellent network of women SHGs across Gujarat. We have decided to identify one such group from all the 18,000 villages of Gujarat and have 2 of their leaders trained. So we are talking about 36,000 women trained on 3 aspects of Swachh Bharat Grameen mission.”
TLM Dipikaben Parmar who steers the session says, “Sisters, we have Rs 3.5 lakh in our accounts already and our tijori (coffers) are full now. You already saw the sanitary mart operating in Ovangarh (nearby). With these funds, we can construct at least 30-35 toilets and later market sanitary products through such marts.”