Now I am back in a manse that has no less than 4 toilets, I am reflecting on my visit to Jharkhand, in India, where only 20% of people have access to a toilet of any kind!
Life for women is particularly difficult. I saw men relieving themselves by the side of the road and squatting in fields, but the women are only allowed to go out of the house to use the fields as a toilet first thing in the morning, and after dark at night. Not only do they have to train themselves not to go to the toilet during the day, but going into the fields in the dark leaves them vulnerable to sexual assault. Sorry - too much information – but toilets loom large when you haven’t got them!!
Other issues the women were concerned about were child marriage, gender violence, growing alcoholism, and education for girls.
Many of the families are dependent on illegal coal mining to feed themselves, and one of my most abiding, and haunting, images will be the cycle pushers – men with vests blackened with sweat and coal, trousers pulled above the knee, straining every sinew as they push cycles laden with 10-20 bags of coal to sell in Ranchi, a journey of 40km which takes them a day and a half. The only solution is to develop alternative sources of income, and Srijan is helping women, through the SHGs, to set up co-operative goateries, piggeries, poultry and vegetable growing.
Reducing women’s drudgery is another aim, and I was delighted to see simple tools that really make a difference to women’s lives and well-being. The women laughed at me when I couldn’t work out how to use a corn-on-the-cob stripper. They showed me how quickly this simple tool worked, and pointed to their thumbs and forefingers, indicating how painful it was to do this work by hand.
I have so much more to tell you – you will have to ask me to come and talk about it!