One more International Woman’s Day has whizzed past our calendar in March. Surely, on this day, Indian women and their counterparts across the world tallied the balance sheet of factors to celebrate and the multiple issues that pull down or dishearten women in diverse areas — from top-notch positions and white collar workers in the corporate world, to ordinary, back-breaking jobs in the organised and unorganised sectors, and above all the home, which are preventing girls and women from leading dignified lives. No prizes for guessing the score card.
Against this background, it was heartening to take stock of another mega project senior Rotary leaders in India are planning, an integral part of which is gender equity. In the last issue we saw how the South Asian Literacy Summit at Pune unfolded a cheeky Rotary dream — of making India, and rest of South Asia, totally literate in the next few years. During the same impressive event, particularly at the ‘Ignite’ session the previous day, details were disclosed about WinS (WASH in Schools), the next project Rotary is rolling out for our schools. Under the chairmanship of TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta, Rotary will work closely with the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat programme to build a whopping 20,000 toilet blocks in Indian schools in the next two years. This means 80,000 toilets; and Rotary will go beyond providing mere brick and mortar structures. It will also ensure water tanks, water filters, well demarcated washing areas where children can wash their hands with soap and water before their meals and after using toilets.
And, for a reasonable period of time, it will also maintain these toilets, taking pains to ensure that hygienic conditions prevail in the entire school, including the kitchen where midday meals are served, and the classrooms. Gupta’s catchy tagline is: ‘Swachh Vidyalaya leads to Swachh Bharat.’ Sesame Street’s newest muppet Raya (see cover picture) will be educating millions of children in several countries to wash their hands and feet with soap and water before eating and after toilet use. If done diligently, this can dramatically reduce childhood morbidity and mortality through preventable diseases.
But where does gender equity come in, you may well ask. It comes into the picture because 40,000 of those toilets will be exclusively for girls. There is sufficient data to show that parents pull out girls from school at puberty as there are insufficient and inadequate toilets in our schools, lacking an assured supply of water and soap so essential for hygiene during menstrual cycles. At Pune, RIDE Manoj Desai said that when Rotary built separate toilets for girls in an Agra school there were only 5 girls; now there are 150! That is the positive gender impact of separate, clean and functioning toilets for girls in our schools.
Pictures speak louder than words. The two photographs on the front and back inner wrappers are eloquent enough. The little girl in Rajasthan, teasing her mother to do away with her ghunghat, is bubbly, mischievous and confident enough to challenge a tradition she finds questionable. The beautiful young Kutchi woman in the other picture, even though wearing a feisty and determined expression, indicates a life filled with struggle and hardships. Just think: If we give our girls the gift of education, equal treatment when it comes to nutrition, health care and other benefits often reserved for sons in families with limited means, enough space to explore their talent, and above all wings to fly, and do away with outdated, regressive concepts such as a daughter is paraya dhan (some other family’s property), the kind of boundaries our vibrant, bright and feisty girls/women will push. After all there must be a good reason why Rotary International is striving hard to increase its female membership beyond the existing 20 per cent!