Every day in a rural village in Rajasthan, India, Kesar carries a pot into the fields around her home. The 50-yr-old mother of seven sometimes walks several kilometers before she can find a place private enough to go to the bathroom without being seen.
“There is no other option,” Kesar says. “I have to go.”
Globally, 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation; of which 1 billion practice open defecation. For women like Kesar, open defecation not only impacts health but it also compromises dignity and puts their safety at risk. In addition, without adequate sanitation in schools girls often forgo education.
In Rajasthan, most rural families have defecated in open fields for generations. Tackling sanitation in the State is considered an especially daunting challenge, not just because of the deeply rooted cultural norm for open defecation, but also due to the region’s desert terrain. Nevertheless, change for the better is taking hold.
In Bikaner District, one of Rajasthan’s 33 districts, 2011 Census data showed that 70% of the district was practicing open defecation. However, despite the size and scope of the challenge, Arti Dogra, Bikaner’s District Collector, a role appointed by the State Government, knew the issue was one that must be addressed.
Arti and her colleagues began looking for solutions to the district’s open defecation problem. As part of her efforts, she reached out to the World Bank Group through the Global Water Practice’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), which provided technical assistance for what became a community-led and -driven sanitation campaign that focused on pride and dignity for women, for families, and for villages.
Called Banko Bikano, meaning “brave and beautiful Bikaner,” the campaign -- under the central government’s national flagship rural sanitation program -- began by equipping community leaders with skills and training necessary to help others in the community change behavior when it came to sanitation. A trained facilitator from the community spoke to his/her peers about how open-defecation affected their health, dignity, pride, and future and explained how feces comes in contact with the water and food that people consume. During the initial training process, community champions of the campaign emerged from all across the district. As word spread, entire communities began committing to eliminating open defecation. To aid efforts, communities also supported constructing toilets for the poorest among them, something aided by the campaign’s focus on community-wide pride and dignity, not just on individuals.