The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MoDWS) organized a National Conclave of Women Champions for Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBM(G)) to celebrate, recognize and honor the efforts of women champions in rural sanitation. The conclave was organized with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), with the aim of sharing best practices across States, and encouraging and honouring such efforts in parts of the country where women are playing a leadership role in SBM(G). The event saw a participation of nearly 300 women Sarpanches, Anganwadi workers, Block Development Officers and Assistant District Collectors from all across the country who have done noteworthy work in the field.
Lok Sabha Speaker, Smt Sumitra Mahajan, the Union Minister, Ministry of Rural Development, Panchayati Raj and MDWS, Shri Narendra Singh Tomar, Minister of State Shri Ramesh Chandappa Jigajinagi, Ms Vrinda Sarup, Secretary, Department of Food and Public Distribution, Ms Navraj Sandhu, Additional Chief Secretary, Haryana, Ms. Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chairperson and MD State Bank of India, attended the conclave and Shri Amitabh Bachchan sent a recorded video message for the women champions of SBM(G).
Lok Sabha Speaker, Smt Sumitra Mahajan, in her address as the Chief Guest of the event, praised the work done by women sarpanches present at the conclave. She said that it was the first time in history that the country had elected a Prime Minister who spoke about the need for toilets across the country from Red Fort in his inaugural Independence Day address. She said that this was a great beginning and that the concept of ODF had greater focus on usage of toilets than mere construction. Speaking about adolescent girls, she highlighted the importance of the separate toilets in schools for boys and girls to ensure that these girls do not drop out of schools.
Speaking at the inaugural plenary session of the event, the Union Minister, MoDWS, Shri Narendra Singh Tomar, said that women have been playing an important role in the SBM(G), including in its planning, implementation and monitoring in many parts of the country. He praised the dedication and hard work of women of rural India towards furthering sanitation coverage in their respective communities, highlighting that the progress of SBM(G) is several times faster in parts of the country where the sarpanches, CEO Zila Panchayats and collectors are women. He said that all women as well as men need to contribute and work with dedication and determination towards an ODF India.
A video message from renowned actor, Shri Amitabh Bachchan, for women sanitation champions was also played at the event. In his message, Shri Bachchan spoke about the unique problems faced by women in villages where open defecation is still practiced today. He lauded the efforts made by women who are leading SBM(G) in their respective villages and gram panchayats. He underscored the need for men to not see sanitation as a “women’s issue”, but to remember that they need to be equal partners of women on the road to a Swachh Bharat.
Speaking at the inaugural plenary session of the event, the, Secretary, MoDWS, Shri Parameswaran Iyer, appreciated the efforts made by women who have led the construction and use of toilets, not only in their households, but also their entire villages and districts, women who have led self help groups that lent money to villagers to build toilets in their homes, women who were grassroots government officials as well as women civil society activists present at the event and across the country.
Addressing the gathering, Ms Vrinda Sarup, Secretary, Department of Food and Public Distribution, spoke about the traditional central role played by women in cleanliness and swachhta of their households and said that this role needs to be magnified to a community level as well. She urged all women local elected representatives present to raise issues of sanitation at every possible public platform available to them.
Ms Navraj Sandhu, Additional Chief Secretary, Haryana, who is leading the sanitation revolution in the State, spoke about the progress of SBM(G) in Haryana, which has a sanitation coverage of 88%. She said that while 55% villages and 7 districts of the State have already been declared ODF, with the women of Haryana leading this movement in the State with their active participation and leadership, she was confident that the State would be entirely ODF in early 2017.
Ms. Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chairperson and MD State Bank of India, was also present at the plenary session. In her address to the participants, she spoke about the culture of ‘Panchayat pati’ in the country, and encouraged the sarpanches present to get directly and actively involved in the administrative activities that came with their offices. She said that as a banker, she understands how much a family benefits when one woman in the family becomes productive, and lauded the role being played by the women champions present in the success of SBM(G).
Three thematic sessions on Sanitation Issues of Adolescent Girls & Menstrual Hygiene Management, Gender related issues in Sanitation & Sanitation Sustainability, and Social & Behavior Change, Issues in Sanitation were conducted simultaneously. At these sessions, sarpanches and grassroots workers from across the country shared their experiences about the problems faced and how they overcame challenges in making their villages Open Defecation Free (ODF).