From ridicule to respect: young women’s experience and advice on triggering in their own communities in West Bengal

12 June 2012

The Namkhana Block in 24 Parganas (South) District in West Bengal has remarkably become ODF in a short time through the combined efforts of GOAL, HCWS ( a local NGO), and the Government. Young women have played a prominent part in triggering and follow up. However, young women, and also young men, face challenges when they trigger CLTS in their own communities. They are young and known and do not carry the authority of outsiders.

In other continents and other countries, young women face the same difficulties and feel unable to use some of the tools. An outsider who is well-educated, confident, and arrives in a vehicle can get away with behaviour that is not feasible or acceptable for them. The problem is ‘You are young, a woman and from here. What can we learn from you?’

So what can younger people do in their own or neighbouring communities? On May 31st, in a two-hour evening session, six of them in their early or mid-20s shared how they had done triggering in their own and/or neighbouring communities. Two older people who had mentored them also contributed. The idea was to learn from their innovations and experience about what could and could not be done, hoping that this might help others elsewhere. Here is their collegial advice. The sequence can vary.

  • Preliminaries
    Take time to meet people beforehand. Be friendly and take an interest in their lives, their families, their children, and so on. Show respect to elders. Find one or two who can introduce and support them in the meeting, saying that they have been trained and should be listened to. If anyone with influence or authority is not well disposed to a meeting, take time and be patient and polite with them.
  • Team work and mentoring
    Always trigger as a team. Mentoring is also important, by an experienced and older facilitator, at least for the first triggerings. One had involved someone from the facilitating NGO rather than herself do the triggering. She had then concentrated on follow-up.
  • Convening a meeting
    Request the elected member for the community/administrative head (or elsewhere it might be traditional leader) to ask people to come. Do not mention the subject. Stress that you have been trained. Spend a couple of hours before the meeting going round and inviting people to come.
  • Mapping
    Facilitate mapping on the ground. Have a colour for those with household sanitation to stress the positive and pride, another for those without, and one for the OD areas. Emphasise good as well as bad things.
    Calculation of shit. Where do those without latrines go? How much do they do, and how often? Children can take a lead in calculating. They love doing this. They can use chart paper and markers. Their parents feel shame and may try to stop them but the children are unwilling to stop, and compete with one another! Girls between about 11 and 18 feel most shame at this in front of adults and neighbours. The conclusion: a hill of shit.
  • Transect
    Ask people to show what they are proud of. Who have toilets? Who do not? Where do those without go? See some of those with toilets. Go to an OD area. Stand astride some shit and poke it with a stick disturbing flies while discussing. [N.B. none of them bring shit back to the meeting, or put it down next to food. That, they felt, would for them be going too far]
  • The dignity of women
    Again and again this was stressed as a vital aspect and trigger. For example:

Daughters-in-law have to cover their heads always, and especially when with their mothers-in law. Question to mothers-in-law: your daughters-in-law show respect to you by covering their heads – what are you doing sending them out to bare their bottoms to public view?

Consider – someone might take a picture of them on a mobile phone

  • Faecal transmission/eating shit
    Where does the hill of shit go? People draw and diagram on the ground – flies, dogs, pigs, hens – and people – hands, feet, shoes etc..someone may say ‘we are like pigs, dogs’
  • Cuddle a child
    When discussing this, also at other points, pick up and lovingly cuddle a child and refer the discussion to what happens to children. Do your children eat shit?
  • Take a sick child
    This they find powerful. Pick up a child with a swollen belly or bones sticking out, flies on face and hands. Compare the child with others. How do you feel about your child? S/he could have eaten shit, or had no slippers and got hookworm.
  • To conclude the session
    Usually a triggering session takes around two hours, with perhaps 3 tools used, including mapping. Conclude with eating one anothers’ shit: will you go on doing this? Who is responsible? What action will you take? [They used to form a committee at this time but it did not work well. Natural Leaders emerge though, and now they convene a meeting of them the next day, and divide up responsibilities as convenient]
  • Follow up
    A lot of follow up after triggering, including sometimes supplementary triggerings.

Through all this the young women have gained in status and respect in their communities. It is important to recognise, however, that most of the young women faced resistance and ridicule at the beginning. Their families and others often advised against their talking about haga, the shit word in Bengali. However, with the support of HCWS and GOAL, they persisted and today are respected as their communities realize what has been achieved. Their parents’ attitudes have also changed. One young woman, for example, was asked by the local government representative to talk to teachers about open defecation, since this was a subject about which she had been trained. When she held the teachers’ interest, her father who had initially had strong reservations, was proud of her.

Informants: Sumita Mondal, Asima Jana, Nitu Giri, Sangita Dey, Sumana Mandal and Shubhankri Biswas, together with two mentors, Bani Ballabh and Sujoy Chaudhury, in Namkhaha Block, West Bengal.

Robert Chambers is a Research Associate at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK.