The first time I saw open defecation was in a slum in Delhi. I was taken aback. I had always heard about open defecation, but until that point I had never seen it and couldn’t imagine it happening in an overly crowded urban area. It was also at that moment that I knew I had to learn as much as possible about the ways in which people use the bathroom, if they have one at all.
2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation and 1 billion people do not have access to a bathroom and must resort to the undignified practice of open defecation. There are 7 billion people on the planet.
Women who must defecate in the open and who also have to use the community toilets are at increased risk of violence and rape.
When I visit communities and families in low-income countries I always look for toilets and latrines to see the conditions in which people relieve themselves. Below are some photos of toilets I took in India, Ethiopia, Philippines, and South Africa.
This month begins a massive scale-up of Pentavalent vaccine for India’s children. With the largest rate of child mortality in the world, this new, national immunization effort will help reduce the number of child deaths in India. The Pentavalent vaccine combines diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) with hepatitis B (hepB) and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). Haemophilus influenzae type b kills 72,000 Indian children each year. Currently there are 6.8 million unimmunized children in India.
With the help of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, India will roll out free Pentavalent shots in 12 states during its first phase. 8 states already have free Pentavalent immunizations. By the end of phase one 2/3 of all India’s children will have access to the Pentavalent shot, according to GAVI. Phase two will cover the remaining 16 states with the Pentavalent shot. Phase two begins in 2015.
“India’s decision to expand access to Pentavalent vaccines through the Universal Immunization Programme will have a major long-term positive health impact by averting the deaths associated with Hib pneumonia, meningitis and hepB liver cancer,” said Dr Seth Berkley CEO of Gavi.
India has already shown that massive immunization roll-outs are in its citizens’ best interest in order to have a healthier populace. India was recently declared polio free because of its willingness to scale-up its polio vaccination programs.
Can you imagine getting up every morning to clean human waste from dry toilets (those without running water or that are not attached to a septic system) day after day without pay? And, while the work is humiliating enough adverse health conditions arise from carrying baskets of excreta on one’s head from losing patches of hair, having constant nausea and headaches to getting skin diseases and having breathing difficulties.
This is the everyday existence for hundreds of thousands of women and men across India who are traditionally and culturally relegated to the lowest caste in India. It’s called “manual scavenging” or collecting human waste. When women in this Dalits (untouchables) caste are married, the first thing they are given from their mothers-in-law is a cane basket to clean human excrement. It’s a practice that has been handed down through generations. And despite laws in India that forbid this practice and provide protections to the Dalits (both men and women) who manually scavenge, it still goes on without any major government intervention.
In 2013, the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (the 2013 Act), was passed that prohibits manual scavenging and provides stronger protections for those who leave manual scavenging, but the evidence suggests the law is not working widely.
I had to work with my head veiled. During the rains, my clothes would become drenched with excrement. They would not dry. The house would smell. I started to get skin disease and even to lose my hair. —Badambai, Neemuch district, Madhya Pradesh, January 2014 (quote from the HRW report)
Human Rights Watch released a report this week, Cleaning Human Waste: “Manual Scavenging”, Caste, and Discrimination in India, that shares the stories about women in particular who collect human waste from the dry toilets of the upper castes and explores the role of government and civil society organizations in manual scavenging. The report also lays out ways in which Dalits can successfully leave collecting human waste as a livelihood.
As aforementioned, these women are not paid, but rather are given scraps of food that they in turn take back to their families. If they don’t work in these deplorable conditions, their families do no eat. That is what perpetuates the horrid cycle.
I clean 20 houses in Sandawli every day. They give me rotis. They don’t give more than two rotis, but they do give us something. My husband works in the fields, but work in the fields does not come every day. If I do this work, at least we will have something to eat. – Shanti, from Nagla Khushal, in Mainpuri district, Uttar Pradesh
When women step up to leave manual scavenging they are oftentimes threatened with losing their homes and are even threatened with violence, even though the Indian Supreme Court has recognized that manual scavenging violates international human rights laws. What is proclaimed on the federal level, however, rarely trickles down to the municipal level and manual scavenging still takes place across India every day. While the government on every level is failing in this regard, civil society organizations are succeeding and women and men are standing up for their rights given to them by law to leave manual scavenging.
Read Lalibai’s story of standing up and freeing women across India from collecting human waste through organizations like Jan Sahas (People’s Courage) and Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan – the National Dignity Campaign.
Yesterday we published How One Philanthropist is Changing Lives for India’s Women and Girls. Today we’re publishing part two of the piece. In this continuation, Indrani Goradia tells the stories of three women she met during her most recent trip to India to launch Wajood, a partnership between her organization, Indrani’s Light Foundation, and PSI to address violence against women. Read more about Wajood in yesterday’s piece.
Laxmi strode confidently into the hotel ballroom where we were holding the launch of Wajood – a project developed in partnership between Indrani’s Light Foundation and PSI India to stem gender based violence in Delhi.
She’s slight, dressed in skinny jeans and unmistakable in her confidence, her beauty and for the scars covering her face and arms.
We had not exchanged a single word but I could feel the life and purpose flowing from her, and I loved her immediately.
A little later, we sat down to talk and with self-assurance and boldness, she shared her story. When she was only 15 years old, she refused the marriage proposal of a man twice her age in her New Delhi neighborhood. As revenge, the man enlisted his friend to help him punish her. At a crowded upscale market in India’s capital, the two men approached her and threw a glass of acid in her face.
Now at 23, after multiple surgeries, she is speaking out on the issue of violence against women and mentoring women who’ve experienced similar abuse. She is giving voice to victims and hope to women, and she is pushing for change.
There is something painfully beautiful about the human spirit that allows Laxmi to take such an unimaginable tragedy and turn it into fire and light and love.
Too many young girls and women share Laxmi’s experience. She’s determined to stop the cycle. I am, too. It’s why I am here in Delhi launching Wajood with PSI India. The timing is critical and the women I met are ready for change in one of the most dangerous places in the world for girls and women.
I leave our conversation restless, determined and impatient. Laxmi inspires my work and she challenges me to do more.
What one thing can we do today to help create change? It could be a simple as sharing Laxmi’s story.
Today I spent time with prostituted women at Shakti Vahini, India’s leading organization to combat human trafficking and slavery.
It broke me. I felt sorrow, anger, rage, and incredible grief.
But what most overwhelmed me was the incredible grace of the women I met. They invited me into their space and they shared their very intimate personal stories.
Geeta’s mother died when she was seven, leaving behind six children – all girls. Two of her sisters were married off at the age of 7. As her father could not support her, she was sent away to be a domestic servant.
Geeta was only 15 years old when she was married to escape servitude, and then promptly had two children by age 19. Her husband regularly beat her and demanded that she make more money selling goods at the local market. He soon left her alone, young and with no way to support her two children. That’s when a “trusted” male friend offered her a better life and work in the city. Hopeful for a way to provide for her children, she agreed and was soon sold into the Delhi brothel that has become her life, her home, her prison.
One after another, each woman shared her story. I am humbled and I fight to hold back tears.
I’m thankful for Shaki Vahini and their work to strengthen law enforcement agencies and campaign against violence against women, child marriage, sexual harassment, and forced marriages. With them we are a step closer to ending gender-based violence in my lifetime.
Join me. Share Geeta’s story. Help create the awareness we need to change. When our voices become too loud, too powerful, they will have no choice but to be heard.
I think most people would expect an educated woman in the country’s capital city to somehow be immune, protected, to have the same basic rights of a modern woman.
In 2004, Mitu, a pediatrician, married an orthopedic surgeon. Shortly after her arranged marriage, her in-laws demanded a greater dowry from her parents – a new car, more jewelry and other possessions. Her parents could not give more, and as a result, Mitu suffered abuse at the hands of her mother-in-law – a practice all too common in India.
After becoming pregnant her in-laws demanded a sex determination test. Mitu refused.
She was carrying twins, and she knew that they would force her to have an abortion if she was pregnant with girls. Persistent, her in-laws tricked her into eating a cake that she was allergic to and she ended up in the hospital where they arranged a full fetal scan, revealing the sex of the babies to her in-laws. All without her consent.
Mitu fought back.
It so happens that gender based abortion is illegal in India under the PNDT Act of 1994. She is the first woman in India to file a complaint under the law against her husband and the doctors and hospital that performed the illegal sex-determination test. To date, no charges have been pressed.
One of the great challenges in addressing gender-based violence is getting laws passed that protect people from abuse. Another great challenge is ensuring charges are filed and people are held accountable for their actions.
The deeply engrained preference for boys in India means that most people feel that Mitu is wrong and that she should have respected her in-laws’ preference for a boy.
Mitu’s path has not been easy. She experiences stigma, has been ostracized and is financially burdened. But she does not let these things stop her from doing what she knows is right.
Change takes champions, advocates and heroes. Mitu and Laxmi and Geeta are my heroes, I join them to forge a world where girls will choose who they marry, when they marry, and celebrate the birth of their daughters.
As I prepare for the journey home, I have a lot to consider. I am exhilarated, exhausted and inspired. I will take these stories with me and I will do my best to amplify them – to honor them.
I’ll write one more post. Until then, keep these women in your thoughts.
We are all abused when one of us is abused.
I have been back from Delhi for about a week now.
I went to launch a partnership between Indrani’s Light Foundation and PSI India and Wajood – a project to address gender based violence in Dehli and surrounding areas.
It’s been my dream to take my experience and the experiences of the women I have met through Indrani’s Light Foundation and put them to use to help women around the world. This week, that dream was realized.
I expected to hear difficult stories, I expected to see great differences in culture and the similarities that make us all human. What I did not expect, what has stayed with me, is the overwhelming sense of hope – from Laxmi and Mitu and Geeta.
When I close my eyes I see their faces, I hear their voices and I feel their pain and their purpose.
These women are regular women – obedient girls and hopeful wives whose lives were upended by harmful cultural practices that have become far too common. Geeta was forced into prostitution and 20 years later she still suffers, Laxmi was barely 15 when a 32-year-old man doused her with acid because she refused his hand in marriage and Mitu is a pediatrician whose daughter was thrown down the stairs by a spiteful mother-in-law because she did not want two girls in the family.
Thankfully, what is also becoming common is that women like Geeta, Laxmi and Mitu are giving voice to an issue that holds back families, communities and countries. These women are easy to identify as activists, as they are speaking up to create change for the country they so dearly love. But for every Laxmi there are hundreds of women who will never get the chance to speak openly or in public for fear of reprisal or even death. Nevertheless, these unsung heroes live next door to us in Delhi, Detroit and Dublin. They take the beatings and the rapes and daily verbal abuse as they try to do their best for their children. They continue to care for the parents of their husbands, often their abusers, and they continue to try to be the best wives and mothers they know how to be.
These women, these invisible heroes, are the backbone of India. They are the ones we must reach with prevention efforts and support services for they will change India into a more compassionate culture towards girls and women. We must also reach boys and teach them new ways, we must talk with men and family members to break harmful cultural practices. The work is complex and daunting and something we must do. Laws must change, people must be held accountable for crimes, solutions must be developed as locally as possible so they are relevant, and we must push for more funding and greater inclusion of gender based violence programming into existing health programs.
Wajood, the movement that we have started to help address issues of Gender Violence in Delhi begins today. We join a growing chorus of organizations, women and men who will not stop until we achieve a world free from violence based on gender.
It’s been just over a week since philanthropist and advocate Indrani Goradia landed in India. She’s been many times before, her husband’s family is Indian and she is from Trinidad and Tobago, of Indian descent.
But this is a different trip and fifty-plus years in the making.
Not long ago, gender-based violence was viewed as a private, domestic affair. Even in the United States, legal protections against violence toward women were not enacted until 20 years ago in 1994.
Today, survivors and their allies that include both women and men spearhead advocacy initiatives to help the world understand that gender-based violence is a systemic, public health and human rights issue. Not only does it jeopardize the lives of women and children but it also has a profound effect on entire families, communities and impedes a country’s progress.
In India, gender-based violence is often seen in the form of dowry violence, sex selective abortions, intimate partner violence and sexual harassment, or ‘eve teasing’. Thirty-five percent of women in India experience physical or sexual violence and only one-in-four seek help. Of those that suffer sexual violence alone, only 8% percent seek help. Of that small percentage of survivors that ask for help, they primarily look to their families, their spouse’s family or neighbors for support—avoiding formal health services available in the community.
Indrani knows all too well the impact gender-based violence can have. She lived it for the greater part of her childhood and the effects shaped her permanently.
After a diagnosis of depression at the age of 50, she decided she had to deal with what happened. Slowly, she turned her pain into determination and began to live her dreams. With no prior training, she decided to compete in an Olympic-distance triathlon. Though nowhere near the head of the pack, she crossed the finish line. And there, her journey as a philanthropist, advocate and mentor began.
Shortly after, she created Indrani’s Light Foundation to address gender-based violence in her community of Houston, Texas. She knew one day she wanted her work to help women across the globe.
Last year, Indrani’s Light Foundation formed a partnership with PSI to do just that. Beginning in 2014, Indrani’s Light Foundation and PSI will pilot projects in India and Trinidad and Tobago.
She joins a growing network of committed women philanthropists tackling the issues facing girls and women. “If we are to eliminate extreme poverty in our lifetime, we must lift girls and women. Eradicating violence based on gender is critical to unlocking girls and women’s potential,” said Goradia.
A primary focus of the pilot project in India, called Wajood, includes spreading messages about prevention and support services available for victims of gender based violence. The campaign will use a combination of public messaging, person-to-person channels and new technologies, such as connecting survivors and their supporters through tablet computers that can measure project process and allow for extra mobility.
The project will also engage boys, men and other community members with creative campaigns on how to prevent gender-based violence. Survivors will have the information and opportunities they need to seek support and share their own stories.
Tomorrow, we will share the stories of three women, Laxmi, Geeta, and Mitu, Indrani met during her time in Delhi. You can follow Indrani at @Indranis_light.
Dar es Saalam, Tanzania – Throughout my travels in Tanzania for the past ten days every time I saw a mother and her baby I smiled inside. And I was even more happy to see mothers breastfeeding their babies as breastfeeding has been proven to be a key intervention to keep more children under the age of five alive in developing countries.
Tanzania, unfortunately, is one of ten countries where 65 percent of the world’s child deaths occur. Compared to India, the country with the most child deaths at nearly 900,000 per year, Tanzania’s child mortality rate is low, but for it’s population size, the percentage is quite high.
Tanzanian mothers lose 48,000 children a year (17,000 on the first day of life). Most newborns die due to asphyxia, infections, and preterm birth here. Additionally, the maternal mortality rate in Tanzania strongly correlates to the child mortality rate. In Tanzania, maternal anemia rates due to malnutrition are leading to 20 percent of all maternal deaths. And in the rural areas, where most Tanzanians live, expectant mothers typically do not have a trained birth attendant to help deliver babies and only 50 percent of Tanzanian mothers give birth in a health facility. These factors contribute to the high maternal and newborn mortality rate. In fact, Tanzania loses 454 mothers per 100,000 live births due to complications during childbirth.
We met them in a perfect spot under a shade tree on a blazing hot morning with temperatures reaching well above 100 degrees even before most headed out for the day. When we arrived at the Okhla community courtyard the ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) and Anganwadi health workers had already patiently waited for us with purses on laps and hands crossed talking quietly amongst themselves. They welcomed us as we sat. The meeting was arranged by Save the Children’s Delhi office that works throughout the city’s various zones providing supplementary health services to help keep women and children alive.
As we sat with an expecting mothers’ group in Okhla slum in south Delhi with Save the Children India we learned that the government provides a countrywide incentive program for women to deliver their babies in a hospital as opposed to delivering at home. While monetary payment to give birth in an institution would help many poor Indian families particularly those who are migrant workers and slum dwellers it isn’t a foolproof way to entice expectant mothers into government hospitals.
Some still believe the traditional way of delivering at home with a midwife is far better than delivering in an institution. This goes back to a wide-held belief that many believe hospitals are intended solely for people who are sick and pregnancy isn’t seen as a sickness. Couple this with a healthcare system with great faults and many expectant Indian mothers opt for home deliveries despite the risk of losing their babies or even losing their own lives.
India, despite its soaring economic growth, spends less than 1% of its GDP on healthcare. In a country with 1.2 billion people this is certainly problematic especially as most healthcare is sought out at private clinics despite the high cost of services. Government run hospitals are in bad condition with routinely absentee doctors and a lack of medicines and medical supplies. Christopher Werth, an International Reporting fellow, recently reported for the BBC about India’s healthcare dilemma.
I am pleased to announce Mom Bloggers for Social Good’s second insight trip! It is slated for this summer with Elizabeth Atalay (documama.org), blogger, Social Good Mom, and member of the Global Team of 200. Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks.
Our first insight trip to Delhi, India just wrapped with Nicole Melancon, also a Social Good Mom and member of the Global Team, where we met with Pratham India, Save the Children India, WaterAid India, and Protsahan. We also meet with a Delhi-based mom blogger. Read about our journey at socialgoodmomsindia.tumblr.com.
Last week I was in India with Social Good Mom and Global Team of 200 member Nicole Melancon of Third Eye Mom. We kept up with all of our photos, videos, and posts on a frequently-updated Tumblr, SocialGoodMomsIndia.tumblr.com. We will continue to update the microsite with more multimedia from our visits with Protsahan, Pratham India, Save the Children and WaterAid.
Above is our visit to Save the Children’s mobile health unit in South Delhi for pregnant women and children up to age 5.
Photo credit: Jennifer James
A special thank you to Sevenly who was a sponsor of our trip!