400 Trichy women awarded by FICCI for exemplary work on urban sanitation

The women have been awarded Best Non-profit Engagement Model in Sanitation award in the urban category.
400 Trichy women awarded by FICCI for exemplary work on urban sanitation
400 Trichy women awarded by FICCI for exemplary work on urban sanitation
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A group of 400 women from Tamil Nadu’s Trichy district have been honoured by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the India Sanitation Coalition (ISC) for their work in the field of urban sanitation. The women, who hailed from various self-help groups (SHG) in the district, came together to manage and maintain around 200 public toilets in Trichy and were awarded for the 'Best Non-profit Engagement Model in Sanitation (Urban)' at the ISC-FICCI Sanitation Awards on Thursday.

The women accomplished the feat be organising themselves into Sanitation and Hygiene Education (SHE) teams. These teams, put together in 2000, comprised of representatives from SHGs within slums in the city. They were trained by a local voluntary organisation, Gramalaya, to manage community and public toilets in their respective areas.

Rukmini, one of the women leaders of the SHE teams says that she was initially reluctant to get involved with sanitation work given the social taboo surrounding it. "If not for my SHG friends, I would never have gotten involved. Now I have travelled to all the four zones in Trichy, gone to all the community toilets, discussed with the city officials regarding sanitation requirements, created a lot of awareness in the slums, and have also faced a large number of problems. The impact we have created gives me purpose,” she says.

The teams operate as part of the Women’s Action in Village Empowerment (WAVE) Federation and are responsible for overseeing and managing the "financial sustainability of a network of public toilets across the city". The women have been trained to maintain financial records, manage resources and ensure proper operation of the facilities. They also work to raise awareness on sanitation and hygiene within their communities. Additionally, some of the women liaise with the Trichy city corporation for maintenance-related work.

Revenue is generated from charging user fee, typically ranging from Re 1 to Rs 5. According to the WAVE Federation, under whose ambit the teams fall, the revenue model allows for cross-subsidisation between high and low revenue-generating toilets. This means that toilets with higher footfall in areas such as bus stands and markets are able to generate sufficient revenue that allows them to contribute towards the upkeep of other toilets in lower footfall areas. The teams are trained to collect user charges, record and track income and expenditure, procure cleaning materials, ensure toilets are cleaned on a regular basis, and supervise minor repairs.

Apart from managing public toilets, the teams have also worked on other sanitation issues like open defecation. For instance, Grace Mary, who works at the Eda Theru street in Trichy tells TNM about how they managed to eradicate open defecation from their area. “15 years ago, the Federation decided to put an end to open defecation. But many had become so used to it that they would not listen. So, we women started to take turns and sit in the open area. The first batch would start their work at 4:30 am. At 5:30 am, the next batch of women would come for their turn. Men used to feel embarrassed. We had to hear a lot of bad comments. But our persistence brought us victory. Now our slum is an open defecation free place,” she says.

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