Women’s Sanitation at Dasra Philanthropy Week
Day one of Dasra Philanthropy Week (DPW), held in Mumbai from March 19 to 21, 2015 saw representatives from civil society, the private sector, and social business come together to talk about the important challenge of improving access to toilets for India’s women and girls.
The DPW panel, entitled ‘Sanitation – Her Squatting Rights’, got to the heart of the issue, discussing the role of government in providing sanitation services, and the importance of triggering behaviour change, not only building hardware. The panellists also emphasised the fact that sanitation is an issue which predominantly affects women and girls due to menstruation, and so sanitation interventions should pay special attention to their needs.
The DPW was launched by Dasra in 2010 to promote discussion and collaboration among multiple stakeholders to address urgent social challenges. Since its inception, more than 500 groups have attended DPW and Dasra estimates the event has catalysed over $40 million worth of funding to the social sector. Notable past speakers include Dr. Raj Shah, former Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization.
Deval Sanghavi, founder and President of Dasra, said after this year's DPW: "It is about time we work in unison along with government to solve the country's most boggling issues and thereby move 800 million people out of poverty."
Sanitation is an extremely pressing issue in India and is especially important for girls who are disproportionately affected by poor sanitation. For many girls the onset of puberty marks a sharp decline in school attendance, mobility and safety. The lack of access to sanitary protection and toilets leads to adolescent girls dropping out of school.
To illustrate the scale of the problem - 63 million adolescent girls still live in homes without toilets, and 25% of schools in India have no toilets, meaning almost 30 million school children do not have access to sanitation facilities.
While the new Indian government has made sanitation a top priority – Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign to promote cleanliness and vowed to eliminate open defecation by 2019 – much more needs to be done.
The panel was made up of Pratima Joshi, Co-Founder of Shelter Associates which works in slums across India to improve access to sanitation, and Kathy Walkling, Co-Founder of Eco Femme, a social business providing education and access to reusable cloth sanitary pads for poor rural women. Ravi Bhatnagar, Manager of External Affairs of Reckitt Benckiser, a multinational company which produces health, hygiene and home products, provided a perspective from the private sector. The panel was moderated by Surita Sandosham, Vice President of Programs at Synergos, a global non-profit which promotes partnerships among business, government, civil society, and marginalized communities to solve development challenges.
This year’s DPW was divided into two parts. Day one focused on the role of the private sector in improving the lives of adolescent girls. The program featured speakers and panel discussions on topics such as investing in adolescent girls, the role of women leaders in empowering adolescent girls, keeping girls in secondary school, and closing the technology gap. The day’s events were inspired by the new Indian guidelines requiring companies to spend 2% of their net profit on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. The keynote address was given by P. Balaji, Director Regulatory and External Affairs, Vodafone India.
Days two and three of DPW focused on the topic of governance and accountability including citizen journalism, how mobile technologies can be used as a tool for good governance and delivery of public services, and judicial reform. Day three also offered the chance for Dasra and Vodafone to launch their new M-Governance report looking at the role of mobile phones in enabling responsive government and more connected societies. Speakers included C.V. Madhukar, Director of Investments at the Omidyar Network, and Indian philanthropist Rohini Nilekani.