A key issue of the sanitation crisis in India is the conditions for sanitation workers. Ensuring our contact with human waste ends when we leave the toilet is one of the most important jobs in society, yet around the world sanitation workers are mostly unseen and unappreciated. They face stigmatisation around the nature of their work and discrimination based on caste, ethnicity and religion. In India, sanitation workers are responsible for cleaning out pits and septic tanks, which often sees men and women physically removing human waste with their hands, usually without any protection or proper equipment. Stigmatisation of sanitation workers is a deep-rooted issue and the work is passed on throughout generations, making the cycle difficult to break. The informal nature of sanitation work also results in low and irregular income.
The Problem We Will Solve
Despite providing an essential public service, these workers are often the most marginalised, poor and discriminated against members of society who carry out their jobs with no equipment, protection or legal rights, often violating their dignity and human rights. We want to solve these four challenges:
1. How can we support sanitation workers to get their voices and demands heard?
2. How can we get local authorities to recognise and respect sanitation workers in the city?
3. How can we support sanitation workers to secure a fair and predictable income?
4. How can we support sanitation workers to establish professional and profit-making businesses?
The Proposed Solution
WaterAid India will focus on rural sanitation workers, and aim to deliver training and support to professionalise their services. The project will also focus on developing a campaign to support government authorities to better understand the current status of rural sanitation workers, and with this understanding, help them to improve the rights and conditions of the workers.
The project will create an innovative space to work with rural sanitation officials to understand the deep-rooted issues and challenges around sanitation work. Aiming to eventually prevent manual scavenging (when men and women physically remove human waste with their hands) in rural sanitation, the project will nurture conversations between rural sanitation workers and government authorities, to shape constructive and equitable outcomes for rural sanitation initiatives, and help officials to deliver their mandates, ensuring the health, safety and socio-cultural support of these workers. The project will involve:
- Mapping sanitation workers involved in manual scavenging so they can be supported to cease this practice and professionalise their sanitation work, becoming “sanitation entrepreneurs.”
- By becoming entrepreneurs, the project aims to improve all aspects of their health, safety and dignity.
- Designing and implementing a communications campaign which targets local officials, raising their awareness of the challenges sanitation workers face.
- Building on existing data and evidence about sanitation workers, including how workers come into contact with human faeces and how this can be prevented.
- Documenting the processes, studies and campaign materials to be used as tools to be shared among WASH sector organisations and government agencies.
What we aim to achieve
For us, success will look like:
· Building a database of the current status of sanitation workers in rural areas to help sanitation officials gain a greater understanding of the challenges faced by these workers and their working conditions. It is expected that this could lead to decision makers improving conditions, such as health and safety and providing socio-cultural support of these workers.
· Improving the health, income and social status of rural sanitation workers, and removing the possibility of them becoming manual scavengers, by professionalising their service.
· Documenting the approach and lessons learned, for replication and scale up in other geographies.
What We Have Learnt
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