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Empowering women

induced. In an emergency, she might dig a small hole and go in secret.” It is accounts like this that inspired the national sanitation campaign, Clean India, according to President Narendra Modi. He caused a stir in his Independence Day speech last year by urging people to build toilets – for the sake of women’s dignity. “Has it ever pained us that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in the open…?” Modi said. “People may criticise me for talking about toilets ... but I am from a poor family … for the poor to get dignity, it has to start from here.” Modi’s bold ambition is that every household in India has a toilet by 2019, the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. It’s a tough call: about 48% of India’s 1.25 billion population still relieve themselves in the open and have done so for generations. But

Sheohar district is generally

beyond the reach of the state. Many here are Dalits, the so-called ‘untouchables’, marginalised in every sense. In all the countries where it works, Toilet Twinning targets communities

Women go twice to the toilet outside, once before the sun comes up, and again after the sun goes down

such as these. And it works through local church-based partners, who have earned the communities’ trust. Toilet Twinning’s starting point is not

toilets. Its first priority is to help poor communities see that change is possible and that they can make that change happen. So, often, its partners begin by helping villagers organise into groups and ensuring women are involved. Jaya Kumar of Toilet Twinning’s

partner, Discipleship Centre, explains: “Groups such as women’s self-help groups have tremendous potential


influencing and guiding the path of a village’s development. It’s important for women to have a say.” Only when communities are ready to

work together to bring change do partners move on to the next steps: ensuring there is clean and safe water, and teaching families how to stay clean and healthy, for example through handwashing.


Crucially, they explain the link between poor sanitation and sickness; some villagers still believe diarrhoea is caused by evil spirits – and, when their children fall ill, parents consult traditional healers instead of the health clinic. “Sometimes children die because they don’t get to a doctor in time,” says Dwijendra Mandal of Discipleship Centre. Finally, people are encouraged to build


toilets and, ideally, provide their own resources or labour. This is key if people are to ‘own’ their toilets and continue to use them. “And when one person in a village has a latrine, everyone wants one,” says Dwijendra. This gradual approach is not just about meeting people’s basic needs, but also about restoring their dignity, says Toilet Twinning CEO Lorraine Kingsley. “Extreme poverty – such as lack of

a basic loo – is undignified because it makes people helpless. If you don’t have a toilet, you can’t keep healthy, so you can’t work or earn enough to feed your family.

“But dignity goes further than that. As Christians, we believe that we are all equal in God’s eyes. So we want to see people believing in their own worth and their ability to shape their future. “A pit latrine is a simple construction. But if you’ve built it yourself, believing that you can improve life for your family – it becomes something powerful.” ‘Dignity’ has long been a buzzword

in development and social care sectors. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put it front and centre of his vision for the next 15 years in his report, The road to dignity by 2030. Dignity is an abstract concept that is

notoriously hard to define. But you know it when you see it. Ranju is a young mum to two lively

boys. Her husband, a mechanic, works far from home in Dumri village and rarely returns. Ranju’s toilet is a modest affair, with

no roof. But Ranju is proud of it because she’s helped pay for it herself, by saving £1 a month through a women’s self-help group. Now she can keep her children clean, healthy and safe from the snakes. “The children didn’t want to go outside

and they used to have diarrhoea, but not now,” she says, smiling. For Ranju, this is far more than just a toilet: it’s a powerful statement that she can build a better life for her family. + Seren Boyd is a Christian writer working for Toilet Twinning and other charities

womanalive October 2015 27

Vernon Kingsley/Toilet Twinning

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