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GSF seeks to strengthen the Indian sanitation programme

Oct 24, 2013

In an interview to OneWorld South Asia, Anand Shekhar, team leader at GSF, said that water, sanitation and hygiene are essentially gendered spaces.

Anand Shekhar

The Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) is a pooled global fund established by the Geneva based Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) to help large numbers of poor people attain safe sanitation services and adopt good hygiene practices. In India, the programme is working from 2010-2015 in select districts of Jharkhand, Assam and Bihar with a view to support and strengthen India’s national sanitation programme – Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) and achieve open defecation free status for all panchayats.  OneWorld South Asia speaks to Anand Shekhar, team leader at NRMC, the executing agency for the GSF on his experience in taking up the challenging task of introducing toilets in rural areas.

OneWorld South Asia: Can you tell a bit about your programme and how are you influencing policy at the highest level and in the states in terms of sanitation?

Anand Shekhar: The GSF programme in India seeks to respond to the fundamental challenges in the Indian rural sanitation sector while supporting the core principles of NBA – the national sanitation programme. Improved sanitation and hygiene at scale in largely underserved locations is achieved through successful demand-driven approaches.

The likely influence of such approaches on sector policy and practice and the potential for scale-up of such approaches through strengthened public institutions and stakeholder engagements and partnerships is expected to support the national and state-level efforts towards improved sanitation access and use and hygiene behaviour change.

OWSA: The MDGs, which will soon be phased out, had MDG-7 with focus on safe drinking water and basic sanitation. How strongly does sanitation figure in the post-2015 development agenda?

Shekhar: The central challenge of the post-2015 UN development agenda is to ensure that globalisation becomes a positive force for all of the world’s people. There is an urgent need to find new pathways in pursuit of inclusive, equitable and sustainable sanitation. The post-MDG vision is centred on three fundamental principles: respect for human rights, equality and sustainability. Business as usual cannot be an option and transformative change is needed. Ending open defecation and ensuring universal access to sanitation at school and work, and increasing access to sanitation at home is being considered.

OWSA: From your experience, is it poverty or lack of education and awareness that leads people to follow open defecation?

Shekhar: The poor performance on sanitation is traceable to the limited appreciation of the importance of awareness creation, demand generation and capacity building efforts at the district and sub-district level. We notice that people build pucca houses but do not build toilets. We have more mobile phones than household toilets. This proves the point.

OWSA: What do you find the toughest to handle – changing hardened attitudes (behavior change communication), or natural hurdles of poverty and poor awareness about sanitation?

Shekhar: Strategising and executing awareness creation, demand generation and capacity building efforts, identifying and implementing innovative technological and financing solutions that are consistent with local circumstances and engaging with aspects of behaviour change and sustainability, have commonly been identified as the major challenges. Resources for spurring much needed behaviour change are available but capacities to strategise, plan and execute these are limited. There is good evidence that when communities are made aware, they change traditional practices around disposal and management of human excreta.

OWSA: In your work with people on sanitation, did you also notice any peculiar attitudes that relate to caste or regions or communities? Within this context, could you elaborate if reaching out to women is easy or not?

Shekhar: Water and sanitation programmes across the world indicate that water, sanitation and hygiene are essentially gendered spaces. Gender hierarchies are strong and foster discrimination and deprivation. Social norms and conventional ways on gender within villages influence the way women view WASH facilities and use them.

Women have lower access to media than men in every age group. IEC strategy makes no special efforts to reach out to women. Since most women and even men of marginalised communities do not attend Gram Sabhas, women do not come to know about government schemes even if their husbands attend. Technology options are not discussed with women and it is found that women and adolescent girls who are the main users are not convinced about the technology.

OWSA: Do you have a follow-up strategy in place to ensure that the toilets that you construct are not used for other purposes, such as storing grains, fuel wood or fodder, than for the purpose originally meant for?

Shekhar: The programme ensures that Sub-Grantees – the NGOs that we work with – make follow up visits to support communities practice their improved behaviour. The Sub-Grantees create and strengthen village level institutions and are provided training to help maintain the improved behaviour. They follow up on the process of toilet construction by households at the village level and also encourage members of the panchayat, local leaders and youth groups to actively participate in the process and to monitor the sustainability of interventions and benefits.

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