Women and Water: A Path to Empowerment

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NISHTHA has over 35 years of program experience in the areas of health and hygiene, women and girl empowerment, legal advocacy, water resource installation and maintenance, vocational support, and education for sustainable agriculture. (Journal of Gender & Water)

NISHTHA means devotion or commitment in Bengali and is also the name of a small organization in West Bengal, India that was founded by women. NISHTHA has over 35 years of program experience in the areas of health and hygiene, women and girl empowerment, legal advocacy, water resource installation and maintenance, vocational support, and education for sustainable agriculture.

NISHTHA  works to empower women to fight for equal rights, equal opportunities and equal dignity, especially when it comes to water and sanitation. Globally, women take part in all water-related activities, yet they often do not have a role in any decision concerning water.

When the government brought piped water supply to our district, they decided to provide only household connections that poor families could not afford. NISHTHA intervened and organized water committees – comprised only of women.  These committees applied for group connections to provide water for their entire community. These water committees are still functioning and managing water effectively today. They have also implemented certain rules for using the tap water (see below) since the water supply is limited. These rules include attending water committee meetings, paying monthly water fees, and only using the water for household needs, not agriculture.

In our villages, rural sanitation is also a large concern because only 30% have access to a safe sanitation. Women suffer the worse without a latrine at home, resulting in accidents and molestation while defecating in darkness. To help solve this problem, NISHTHAprovides loans to women groups to construct family latrines. To date, these women groups have already constructed 4,500 latrines.

NISHTHA is working relentlessly to eliminate gender discrimination. Women with proper empowerment will provide sustainable improvement of health, education and socio-economic conditions of village.
Chayya Naskar stays in a dilapidating hut with walls and roof covered by polythene sheets in the tiny village of Tripuranagar. Chayya’s parents arranged her marriage with due negotiation with her in-laws when she was only 16 years old. But when she gave birth to a female child, her husband left her and the little daughter and she was forced to live in a small and unhygienic hut. She felt herself in deep depression and frustration.

At this moment  our women’s group intervened and provided her training, a loan and counseling and it took quite a few months to bring back her self-confidence. Now she is a different Chayya Naskar. She is a vegetable vendor, and with her income from the business she is supporting herself and her daughter. She is now a proud and energized women, and her motto is to help and support other women.

Rules and Regulations of Water Committees

The Water Committees / Women’s Groups have formulated  rules and regulations and those are common to all.

  1. Nobody is allowed to bathe on the tap water, cannot wash clothes or clean utensils, and cannot use water for after brushing teeth.
  2. Nobody is allowed to water the kitchen gardens from tap water.
  3. Every family has to deposit their subscription to the authorized person of the water committee strictly on the specified date.
  4. All the members have to attend  the meetings of the committee.

NISHTHA was born in a very remote village of South 24 Parganas by a group of rural women who were victims of gender discrimination and had a mission of empowering the village women.  Mina Das has lead the organization for over 30 years, working to empower women and girls through gender equity initiatives, education and health promotion, as well as the organizations emphasis on self-sufficiency in efforts to bring clean water, safe handling and hygiene education to rural women in West Bengal.

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