Women heave a sigh of relief in Musiri

NGO overcomes local resistance to construct toilets in village

S. Gomathi travelled at least 1.5 km thrice a day along the Cauvery river bank to change a sanitary pad while she was menstruating. She would make her way through thorny bushes to reach a secluded spot where she could safely change and dispose of the soiled pad. Like her, other 200-odd menstruating women would have to resist catcalling men and the blazing sun at least thrice a day.

“The journey would take us at least an hour and we would have to do it at least three or four times. It would take longer at night because we would go in groups. there have been so many times when men or dogs have chased us,” says Ms. Gomathi.

Six months ago, Gramalaya, a city-based non-governmental organisation working with public sanitation reached Musiri with its SMART Toilet project. “We came here at the fag end of the project due to resistance from the community to construct toilets here,” said S. Damodaran, CEO and Founder.

The weaver community in Musiri did not allow the construction of toilets because according to their tradition, toilets were not allowed near residential spaces. “My husband asked, how can you defecate where you eat?” said R. Deepika, whose residence allowed one of the first toilets to be constructed. “He asked me if the walls will confine the stink.”

A total of 36 cases were filed and a few even went to court against Gramalaya for initiating the construction.

Adolescent girls who went to school faced more problems as the school in their locality too did not have a toilet. They had to walk to the river to change a pad but would not know when to. “It was difficult to focus on classes when all I could think about was walking for an hour every two hours to change a pad. This would cause staining and embarrassment often,” said a class 12 student. “In many households, there were celebrations when a girl attains puberty but we used to feel sad, weary of all the perils."

Gramalaya constructed 200 toilets and encouraged the houseowners to invest 20 per cent to evoke ownership rights. Each SMART toilet cost ₹ 18,000 for which Gramalaya mobilised Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds. The bathroom cum washroom is a 4×7 feet structure constructed with leech pits in the backyard of most houses on Saliyar street.

When Gramalaya launched cloth pads earlier this year, they handed them out for free to the women in the village.

“The cloth pads, along with the SMART toilets helped us save a lot of time and money," said Ms. Deepika.

The cloth pads, which are reusable, are more comfortable. The pads come in gentle, normal and elite varieties and vary in thickness. They are stitched by women that Gramalaya mobilised into Self-Help Groups who make a reasonable profit from it.

“In the last year, we have sold at least one lakh cloth pads. We have even able to declare that all menstruating women in this village are using our cloth pads,” said J. Geetha, Executive Director, CSR of Gramalaya.

With their efforts, Gramalaya has been able to declare Nataraja Nagar in Musiri and Malayadipatti, Sengalur and ATK Nagar in Pudukkottai open defecation free.

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