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Human Rights Watch Explores the Lives of Indian Women Who Clean Human Waste

Lalibai stands by the entrance to the village cremation grounds. Before she took action, villagers had forbidden members of her community to cremate their dead here. © 2014 Digvijay Singh


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.

india0814_reportcoverThis 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. 

#Newborn2013 Twitter Chat

#Newborn2013 Twitter Chat

On Monday, July 8, 2013 the Social Good Moms’ founder Jennifer James hosted a chat with guest Gary Darmstadt, Director of Family Health at the Gates Foundation. NGOs, experts, bloggers, researchers, and digital moms chimed in with information and asked pivotal questions about newborn health.

  1. The #Newborn2013 conversation trended in the US according to US Trends. 
  2. Trend Alert: #Newborn2013. More trends at trendinalia.com/twitter-trendi… pic.twitter.com/YQLZd3wNYZ
  3. The chat started at 11:30 and was fast-paced throughout the entire 30 minute discussion.
  4. Why Is Newborn Health Important Right Now?
  5. Q1: @gdarmsta: Why is the health of newborns around the world a topic of great importance right now? #Newborn2013
  6. .@jenniferjames Success in preventing deaths in newborns lagging v older children. We need new focus and commitment. #newborn2013
  7. Nutrition is critical for mom & young children! RT @wfpusa: Healthy moms=healthier babies. Ensuring proper #nutrition for pregnant &…
  8. On the Relationship Between Maternal and Newborn Health 
  9. #Newborn2013 We must improve #maternalhealth to improve #newborn health! Unhealthy moms make unhealthy babies. #nutrition
  10. .@girlsglobe Could not agree more. Maternal health and newborn health are inseparable! #newborn2013
  11. On Newborn Health and Societal Issues
  12. Q from @raisingself for @gdarmsta: Isn’t newborn mortality rates indicative of greater societal issues within a community? #Newborn2013
  13. .@raisingself Maternal mortality, stillbirth rates & newborn mortality very sensitive indicators of state of the health system #newborn2013
  14. Nutrition on the First 1000 Days as Stated by @WFPUSA
  15. Healthy moms=healthier babies. Ensuring proper #nutrition for pregnant & nursing women is critical. #Newborn2013 bit.ly/1000-days
  16. Healthy moms=healthier babies. Ensuring proper #nutrition for pregnant & nursing women is critical. #Newborn2013 bit.ly/1000-days
  17. On Urgent Challenges About Global Newborn Health
  18. Question for @gdarmsta: What are some of the most urgent challenges in global #newbornhealth? #Newborn2013
  19. .@jenniferjames We need to get newborn health more prominently on the global agenda. You all can paly a key role! #newborn2013
  20. On the Importance of Fathers on Newborn Health
  21. Fathers are key in understanding/supporting mothers in proper nutrition, antenatal care, skilled care at delivery, care seeking #newborn2013
  22. .@pathtweets Need to consider the needs of families – they live integrated lives; we must nmeet them in an integrated way. #newborn2013
  23. On Moms and Bloggers Getting Involved in the Newborn Health Conversation
  24. RT @surfnsunshine: Bloggers can make a HUGE impact by spreading the word through their channels and inc. awareness #Newborn2013
  25. .@jenniferjames This chat is a great example of getting word out. Catapult.org has many great projects to support. #newborn2013
  26. .@jenniferjames Many of you made great suggestions on upcoming Every Newborn Action Plan; are other opportunities to comment. #newborn2013
  27. Tweets About Newborn Health and Newborn Mortality Rates, Still Births, Family Planning, Frontline Health Workers, Kangaroo Care, Breastfeeding, 
  28. MT @gdarmsta: Family planning is one of THE most important intervention to save maternal and newborn lives #newborn2013 #cd2015 #rmnch #mnch
  29. Over the last 20 years, the newborn mortality rate in #Liberia has decreased from 49 to 27. #newborn2013 ow.ly/mL2rg
  30. Without trained health workers in place, no interventions can succeed.@jenniferjames @gdarmsta#newborn2013
  31. .@jenniferjames @gdarmsta – Access to health care during pregnancy and at birth! We could save many newborns this way! #newborn2013
  32. .@gdarmsta @jenniferjames Yes! Kangaroo care is a simple way to help preterm babies survive the 1st critical days. #newborn2013
  33. .@jenniferjames Evidence suggests that immediate exclusive breastfeeding and skin to skin care could save many lives. #newborn2013
  34. .@gdarmsta @raisingself How can we include the number of #stillbirth deaths when evaluating #newbornhealth? -EK #Newborn2013
  35. FACT: Nearly 3 million newborns die each year. Most of these deaths can be prevented. Join in the #Newborn2013 chat today 11:30 ET.
  36. There was a lot of excitement  by everyone involved about global newborn health resulting in the #Newborn2013 hashtag trending in the United States. 
  37. Joining the conversation about #newborn2013 @genesisfndn actively works with children and is also part of this conversation @gatesfoundation
  38. Join in to the #Newborn2013 twitter conversation with @gatesfoundation going on now. Use #newborn2013 hashtag.
  39. For Further Reading About Global Newborn Health Visit the Gates Foundation.

  40. For a whole host of information on #newbornhealth visit the @gatesfoundation‘s Global Newborn Health campaign. bit.ly/13FAKTH

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3 Opportunities to Give to Our Partners on Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day. It’s a great day for receiving gifts from our loved ones, but also a great chance to give as well. Three of our partners have created giving campaigns around Valentine’s Day that we think are practical, inexpensive ways to share the love.

WaterAid America


Woman gathering water at Bishoftu hospital in Ethiopia. Photo copyright: Mom Bloggers for Social Good/ Jennifer James

Water is a very scarce resource around the world. In some areas the need for access to clean water and sanitation is dire. That is why our partner, WaterAid America, provides low-cost ways we can all help provide clean water to our global neighbors. For example, you can provide water for life for one person for a mere $25. And, if you’re in a particularly good giving mood you can donate a composting toilet for $250.

This month if you donate on behalf of someone else you can download a Valentine’s Day card telling them all about the perfect gift they donated to someone in need. Shop WaterAid’s giving page.

More Than Me

More Than Me is partnering with Microsoft’s Give for Youth and GlobalGiving to double the love to their girls in Liberia this Valentine’s Day!

Purchase a Give for Youth gift card between February 12th & February 17th, and you will receive another e-gift card for the same value (up to $100, up to 10 gift cards per person) to share with someone else.

Apply your gift cards to More Than Me’s projects on the Give for Youth site to double the love and double the impact!

Kaboom!

Playground Love Contest - BigThis month you can share the love you have for your favorite playground. Tweet or instagram a photo of your favorite playground with the hashtag #ilovemyplayground and you will be entered to win great outdoor toys from Kaboom!

Find out more on their Facebook page. The contest ends on February 19.

Also, don’t forget to download the Charity Miles app and exercise for good this month that we mentioned earlier this week.

Team Creates Clean Water Solution for South Africans

James Smith, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Dr. Rebecca Dillingham, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Global Health, with a PureMadi water filter.


In areas where water is often filled with pathogens that are deadly or can cause severe illness it is important to either filter water or, the alternative, have access to clean water. According to our partner WaterAid, 783 million people in the world do not have access to safe water. This is roughly 11% of the world’s population. (WHO/UNICEF). Because of this women in the developing world spend 40 billion hours collecting water each year.

A University of Virginia team of professors and students has created a simple water filtration system that will clean one to three liters of dirty water each hour, enough for drinking and cooking for an average family.

The solution is called PureMadi, a ceramic water filter that kills pathogens that cause diarrhea, and dehydration, for example. Each PureMadi filter is coated with a trace amount of silver and copper to filter the water. After rigorous testing researchers found that the filter is safe and effective for filtering clean drinking water.

Currently the PureMadi team only works in South Africa, but their longterm goal is to provide PureMadi to a swath of African countries and also open factories where the PureMadi filter can be created. They have already opened a factory in Limpopo province, South Africa.

“Eventually that factory will be capable of producing about 500 to 1,000 filters per month, and our 10-year plan is to build 10 to 12 factories in South Africa and other countries,” James Smith, a U.Va. civil and environmental engineer who co-leads the project with Dr. Rebecca Dillingham, director of U.Va.’s Center for Global Health said. “Each filter can serve a family of five or six for two to five years, so we plan to eventually serve at least 500,000 people per year with new filters.”

Additionally, they make the MadiDrop, which as its name implies, is a ceramic drop that also cleans water, but doesn’t remove sediment from dirty water, but will kill pathogens.

Learn more at puremadi.org.

New Fishing, Agricultural Development Project in Haiti

Development projects in the developing world help in immeasurable ways. They create a blueprint for implemented ideas that work and even those that have drawbacks, but most importantly they help people lead more productive, healthy lives. Even if the projects aren’t scaled nationwide or even regionally development projects allow experts to help those in need and learn simultaneously.

Recently the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) created an inland fish farm for Haitian families in the central part of the country to increase agricultural production in the region.

Despite the massive earthquake in 2010, the recent cholera outbreaks in the tent cities that still houses close to 400,000 people and hurricane Issac that flooded parts of the country two weeks ago, development experts understand that stabilization efforts must get underway because once all of the crises subside Haitians will need to resume a normal livelihood.

The project constructed two fish farms, 300 meters of irrigation canals to yield more crops, and 500 meters of packed earth irrigation canals according to the United Nations.

Photos: UN Photo/Logan Abassi