WASHE (Water Sanitation Hygiene Education) is India’s flagship community investment programme which targets the girl child in municipal schools and aims to provide them with easy access to safe water and improved toilet facilities as well as hygiene education. From 2011 to 2015, WASHE has impacted the life and education outcome of over 60,000 girls and increased knowledge and influenced a change in attitude of 250,000 family members towards issues surrounding the needs of a girl child.
WASHE dovetails with the mission of India’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission, and the Sustainable Development Goal 6, which expands the Millennium Development Goal’s focus on drinking water and basic sanitation announced in 2015.
WASHE matters both as a fundamental human right and because of its connection to a number of human, economic and environmental outcomes. Globally, an estimated 1.8 million children die from diarrhea, before the age of 5 and half a million occur in India.1 Gender discrimination at each stage of the female life cycle contributes to neglect in care of the girl child and poor access to healthcare for girls. Lack of access to a clean, safe toilet, especially during menstruation, results in the feelings of risk, shame and fear among girls - majority of who don’t even know what’s happening to them when they first start their period. Half of India’s 120 million adolescent girls lack access to a private toilet.2 Girls tend to miss school for an average of four to six days a month because of the lack of safe toilets. 23 per cent of girls drop out of school on reaching puberty, eventually.3
Our WASHE programme adopts a holistic delivery model of empowering girls to drive multi-generational as well as multiplier effect on the society and economy. WASHE creates a safe and comfortable environment for girls, thereby giving them a reason to stay back in school. Implementation of WASHE in schools involves remodelling of school toilets to create gender-specific units, provision of safe water points, teaching the importance of safe water, water quality testing, and purification of water at home and source level. The hygiene and sanitation modules emphasise the importance of sanitation and personal hygiene reinforcing correct hand washing techniques, and criticality of maintaining menstrual hygiene is embedded by provision of sanitary napkins and eco-friendly incinerators. Powering the future of our country and people in needy communities, knowledge on water harvesting, renewable energy and vermin composting - a solid waste disposal technique used to improve soil health and its water holding capacity, is actively delivered as part of WASHE.
WASHE focuses on strengthening the Student WASHE Council through sessions on the importance for good hygiene practices and operation and management of facilities - each school has a functional Council. Capacity is built among the school teachers with complete support from the schools; two calendar sessions are held with the parents and as part of the Parents Teacher Meeting to sensitise them to the importance of WASHE; street plays in the slum‑ areas surrounding the target WASHE schools have helped us drive these messages to the wider community.
Our combined efforts are paying dividends, as there has been reduction in girl’s absenteeism in the school. As information received from the schools, 70 per cent of girls attend school daily and 100 per cent of the girls use sanitary napkins and many have also influenced other female members of their family and friends to switch from cloth to sanitary napkins. Our staff share their skills to deliver sessions on financial education using RBI modules covering on an average 80 percent of the students who are 12 years and above, and HIV-AIDS education sessions to the teachers and parents. We have several events directed at personality development, soft skills and providing exposure through sports engagement with Liverpool Football Club legends and Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. At a cost of less than $5 per girl, the programme gives girls access to water, toilets, financial literacy and awareness on sanitation and hygiene. Engaging boys in addressing the role they play in ensuring that girls’ rights are respected is also embedded.
There is a strong compelling case to expand WASHE. In 2016, we are scaling-up the reach of WASHE. Ten new municipal schools have been added to our WASHE portfolio in Delhi, directly impacting an additional 4,500 students, over 200 teachers and 12,000 community members. To promote sanitation and preserve privacy and dignity of women and adolescent girls in the tribal regions of Maharashtra, we have invested in constructing twin pit leach units for families in the Karjat region. Select households meeting a predefined criterion will be provided sanitation assets. The assets will be in name of the woman of the house, thereby allowing us to emancipate many more number of females. We partner with reputed non-governmental implementing partners such as WaterAid India (WAI), Society for Human and Environmental Development (SHED), Action India (Delhi), and Habitat for Humanity India to make WASHE a success.
Collaboration with government
We maintain an ongoing dialogue with multiple stakeholders being - school, parents, community, municipal corporations, ministries and government to advocate change n attitudes and religious-cultural conventions towards WASHE. Having reputable subject matter experts onboard presents an opportunity to deploy best practices and discover new approaches. A case in point is the impact and influence of our partner WaterAid India’s work in mainstreaming menstrual hygiene management within National Health Mission and Women Child Development; WAI is also recognised as a resource agency by the State Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) in several remote areas and work in conjunction with State Water and Sanitation Mission and District Water and Sanitation Mission on multiple aspects of hygiene and sanitation including quality assurance and technical support. In 2015, the ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has endorsed WAI’s Handbook on Accessible Household Sanitation for Persons with Disabilities.
Corporate partnership along with various reforms and policy changes that are underway is a positive way forward to resolve the water and sanitation crisis.
1PwC: Forgotten voices The world of urban children in India 2WASHE in Schools Empowers Girls Education, UNICEF, 2012. 3The guardian: The unsanitary truth about gender inequality in India
“Due to the WASHE programme my daughter received information about personal hygiene and women’s biology - which even I did not know. During her menstrual period she would remain at home, but the face-to-face counselling session during the parent-teacher meeting, changed my perspective and my daughter’s too. She started attending school more regularly, and uses a sanitary napkin to keep her clean and dry. She is thorough about hand washing and rarely falls sick. WASHE has brought change in hygiene habits because of which she feels and looks healthy.” - Sangeeta Vishakarma, mother of Pooja from Kalina WASHE school