Editor’s Note: For the last month, the Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA), WaterAid and WSSCC have facilitated national level consultation meetings with marginalized communities to identify key issues and messages to be represented at SACOSAN, the South Asian Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene, which takes place 10-14 April 2018 in Islamabad, Pakistan. This blog provides insights on the consultation in India.
By Dr Seetharam M R, Orthopedic Surgeon; President, Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement; Convener, FANSA-India)
Ms. Sudha, Director of THOZI, a community-based organization (CBO) of transgender people, shared that WASH continued to be a major challenge for their community. “We see some change but we need a bigger change. Mere construction of separate toilets is not a big thing in itself – mind-set change is what is required.”
Ms. Olga, of BRAVO movement, however, felt that separate toilets would indeed be a big help: “The transgender group itself is not homogenous, so needs differ. There is a critical period of ‘transition’ during which the individual would be going through extreme stress and would benefit greatly from such privacy. Also, there is a need for security, considering the high risk of sexual-physical abuse transgenders face.”
Ms. Delphina then made her point about the importance of gender –neutral, accessible toilets at all public places, instead of creating separate sets for different users.
Ms Priyanka and Ms Rajakumari shared their experience of having led a cultural programme team of transwomen into the interiors of Tamil Nadu, creating awareness about the Swachh Bharat Mission. Breaking away from regular norms, the Tamil Nadu Government had used their skills as agents for behaviour change. Their efforts were appreciated by the community as well as the authorities. Priyanka also shared that this was quite an energiser for her and her group, stating, “Even after many months, I get some calls from people whom we had interacted with during our tour, thanking me. It feels so good to be recognized like this, and to have contributed to improvement in people’s lives.”
These conversations broke ice, and created an atmosphere of open sharing and trust among the participants. Others also shared the challenges constantly faced — discrimination in their daily lives; fear-dilemma while using public toilets due to risk of harassment and abuse; poor toilet maintenance; lack of access to healthcare – primary as well as specialised; and risks of infection. Living together in congested areas, where 20 to 30 community members are forced to share one toilet, at times there is no option but to adopt unsafe WASH practices.
Discussions were lively, enthusiastic and constructive. Their aspirations-recommendations included
Apart from voicing all these requirements, what was most impressive about the group was that they were ready to be part of the solution, and not just highlight their problems! Enthused by the success they had already seen, they were keen that Participation of Transgenders in WASH Awareness be proactively promoted – BCC by Transgender people themselves for their peers as well as for the community.
The event was quite an eye-opener for all participants – the transpeople, FANSA representatives, and Dr. Gopinath and his students from the Department of Gender Studies, Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development. Going by the positive energy of all the participants, we are bound to see some collective action from this group!
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