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Editor’s Note: This article written by WSSCC Executive Director Chris Williams was originally published on ETHealthWorld.com, 12 November 2016.
What better way to promote the economy than to emphasize inclusive growth through sanitation for all?
Since the inception of the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Government of India has worked feverishly alongside partners from community groups, international organizations, NGOs, and development partners to end the scourge of open defecation and to ensure equal access to sanitation and hygiene for all. This campaign has been an unprecedented call to action for all tiers of society to work together to solve India’s serious and deep-rooted sanitation challenges for the well-being, prosperity and social cohesion of its 1.2 billion citizens.
The government of Prime Minister Modi has elevated awareness of this global health emergency, recognizing that the deleterious impacts of poor sanitation and hygiene on health, productivity and dignity extend well beyond India. With India hosting 60% of the world’s open defecators, Modi knows full well that the health of India’s citizens means an increase in wealth and that economic development goes hand in hand with social development. What better way to promote the economy than to emphasize inclusive growth through sanitation for all?
As we stand at the midway point in the five-year mission to Clean India, we must now train our sights on the populations that are most in need of sanitation and the hardest to reach. In short, we need to ensure that no one is left behind in this quest for universal sanitation and hygiene.
The reality is that the Swachh Bharat Mission won’t achieve its goals unless those trying to deliver sanitation services are focused on the voices of marginalized populations. Sanitation and hygiene policies, services, facilities and even information need to be appropriate and accessible for the elderly, the disabled, adolescent girls, pregnant women, and the transgender population. It is impossible for everyone in India, and around the world, to gain access to toilets and taps unless those of us implementing sanitation campaigns learn from the end users, as well as the unsung heroes of this campaign: front-line practitioners, who most intimately understand the progress and constraints of the sanitation movement.
India’s Gram Swaraj, leaders of women’s groups and farmer’s associations, Block development officers, and NGO practitioners are toiling day in and day out, village-by-village to end open defecation. They understand fully that universal sanitation requires not only a campaign and political will, but also the practical tools of collective action. These are practitioners who inherently understand that leaving no one behind is about pulling up their sleeves and getting to work, community-by-community and block-by-block. They know that collective behaviour change requires everyone working together systematically to cover populations in the most isolated locations, with the most specific of needs.
It is therefore incumbent on all policy makers to listen to groups of people who lack access to toilets, to include them in the conversation, and to promote a more inclusive approach to improving sanitation and hygiene.
On the 18th November, my organization will convene stakeholders and further the discussion during our Sanitation Action Summit in partnership with the Government of India, the Government of Maharashtra, the Swacch Bharat Mission and Global Citizen India. The Summit will train the spotlight on government accountability towards the poorest and most marginalized, and ensure that all voices are heard. We will also widen the conversation to include members of the Indian business community, and to facilitate a constructive dialogue at all levels of society.
On November 19th, the recently-launched Global Citizen India movement will host its first initiative in a 15-year journey to bring about an end to extreme poverty. Global Citizen India aims to raise awareness about the need for and solutions to end the practice of open defecation, increase access to sanitation, and promote good hygiene behavior. The Global Citizen movement has done more in the past two years to elevate the issue of sanitation worldwide than any other institution. Specifically, it has mainstreamed sanitation into popular culture. By targeting their advocacy and media efforts on global decision-makers, Global Citizen has empowered a huge audience with awareness of the issue and the tools to hold their leaders accountable. The Festival has harnessed the universal power of music, attracting artists of world renown to elevate sanitation within the international development community, and apply pressure on global leaders to commit to roadmaps for improving sanitation. And on 19th November the Global Citizen Festival India will amplify the youth voices on the issues of sanitation, health, and accountability, as well as gender equality and education, to enable a wide spectrum of Indian society to internalize the need for inclusive development.
Sanitation is a fundamental human right, and it is incumbent upon all of us to fight to make this a reality. Let’s embrace the concept of citizenship beyond our neighbourhoods, beyond our cities, beyond our States. Let’s collectively take on the responsibility for making society a better place. India is demonstrating its commitment, and now it’s time for all of us, engaging as global citizens, to answer the call.