International Women’s Day celebrations focused on gender responsive and inclusive WASH through community planning, monitoring and review

Bhubaneswar : With women taking major responsibilities in managing WASH services, the issue whether there is enough integration of gender in WASH policy and program was deliberated upon. Bishnupriya Behera and Uttama Digal, CFAR stressed the importance of linking up Sustainable Goal 6 on safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) with Goal 5 on gender equality as any WASH improvement without gender equality cannot work.

At the first panel discussion on Gender in WASH, Mihir Mohanty lauded the work done to strengthen community-led inclusive WASH and foster changes at the grassroots. He went on to add that “BMC’s approval to install persons with disabilities signage in different parts of the ward where disabled persons live is an example of the same.”

Pramila Mohapatra, an elderly resident and person with disability from Tapoban shared about her struggle with cancer and said without gender equality and shared responsibility at the household level, it is difficult to ensure inclusive WASH.

Meera Parida, Member, National Transgender Council, stressed said that the fight for gender equality has to be fought at the personal and political level. “I had to go against family, society and even challenged what was regarded as ‘natural’ to get out of identity that I was being boxed in,” she stated. “We will respect all laws, religious diktats and verses from holy texts if we need to but we will never submit to discriminatory norms and practices,” she added

Jalina Priyadarshini, Member, State Commission for Women took this forward by urging all women to proactively decide on their identity and then go about realizing their rights, as defined in the Constitution. “As an Adivasi woman from Kandhamal, I had to justify myself time and again when people said I was too young to take up this position as member of the women’s commission. We must take an oath today to raise our voice and take the responsibility of creating a gender-equal society.”

Madhumita Ray, gender expert spoke about the need to defy gender biases. No Divine law exists to define a woman’s duties; most normalised beliefs are man-made. Women get violated from time to time and shielding the violators only encourages more violence and does injustice to women and to men too. Citing the example of Damyanti Rout, a social activist’s resolve to house homeless people, she spoke of the need to be empathetic and strive towards gender equality.

Rashmirekha Biwal, Expert, E&Y spoke of the need to recognize the contextual needs of women and the importance of WASH. “Women are more prone to infections especially during menstruation and must be made aware of safe WaSH practices.”

Samikshya Behera, City Programme Manager, National Urban Livelihoods Mission said, ”An educated woman educates a whole generation.” Speaking of the need to be gender-sensitive, she spoke of school curriculums to be revised to create an understanding of gender beyond traditional binaries.

Damyanti Rout spoke of the need for empathy in all sectors. Men must help out at home as equal partners. “In the fields, women work as agricultural labourers too but scarcely get any importance as it is seen as a male-dominated field.”

Guguli Moharana, Waste Management volunteer spoke of the need to ensure gender equality. “Often when I go for surveys in the community, I get ignored by residents. I feel my gender identity has a role to play here. It is important to respect all human beings.”

Gourav Mallick, brought up the importance of male partnership in the household. “After CFAR’s intervention in the community, many new changes have taken place. Now some men do household work.”

Ashisha Behera demonstrated through an activity the importance of participation of women, transpersons and men.

The second panel discussion was on the theme ‘Gender and the margins’. Moderator and speaker, Rashmirekha Biswal spoke of the need to train women in WaSH to so that women can also report on flood and disaster, make livelihood choices and take part in waste management at the institutional level.

Community member, Bhagaban Das cited lines from holy texts that extolled the worth of women. “ We are all responsible for the inequality in society.”

Mousumi Mohanty, Senior Reporter, Kanak News said, “In Adivasi belts, women run the house and work. Even in the media, women are generally offered categories like cultural events to cover. However, with proper sensitization, even media houses are now enabling women to cover crime and political issues. On this day, we should remind ourselves of our capabilities.”

Aishwarya Rutuparna Pradhan, District Audit Officer spoke of the need to realise our rights and challenge gender norms. Family acceptance is important, along with societal support for Transgender persons. Education and a change in mindset is crucial for gender equality.

Ms A B Meghali, Sanitary Inspector, BMC spoke of the hurdles faced by her in reaching a post which was conventionally male-dominated. As there are no Self Help Groups in her ward, the Supervisor assists her in doing the work meant to be handled by 4 Swachh Sathis. “Anything is possible if you’re given the right exposure and scope.”

Meghna Sahoo, Secretary, Transgender Welfare Trust spoke of the need to have toilets for Transgender persons and focus on gender equality at all levels from the household to the community.

Prabhat Das, Single Window Forum Member spoke of the importance of collaboration in WaSH and shared the changes at community level after awareness campaigns on desludging and other WaSH services.

Bhagaban Das, elderly resident spoke about the need to have gender equality and supported the theme whole-heartedly.

Juhi Jain, Deputy Director, CFAR stated the importance of SDG 5 and 6, especially in the context of a disaster prone city like Bhubaneswar where the absence of gender inclusive sanitation makes groups like pregnant and lactating women more vulnerable. To move towards a gender transformative society, we need to ensure women have a say in WaSH governance.

The day culminated with a talent fest featuring artists from the community.


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