UN Women announced the theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2021 as, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”, to celebrate the tremendous efforts made by women and girls around the world for shaping prevention and recovery from COVID-19 pandemic. Women health care workers, caregivers, innovators, community organisers and some of the most effective national leaders have directly involved in combating the pandemic. While being highlighting the centrality of women’s contributions, the crisis also exposed the disproportionate burdens that women carry at household since all the family members are confined to their homes and the family requirements have been escalated tremendously. Across the world, the women started facing increased domestic violence, unpaid care duties, increased unemployment and poverty. On top of that, the responsibility of women to provide water for sanitation and hygiene at household was rocketed high with the requirement of “hand washing” imposed by the Government as a regulation.
With this preamble to the International Women’s Day, let's focus the discussion towards a case study entitled “Generating livelihoods and improving public health through women social entrepreneurship in Small Water Enterprises” conducted in Telangana a State of India. The study was undertaken by Safe Water Network India in collaboration with Global Water Partnership India (GWP India/India Water Partnership) in 2019 under GWP Core Programme.
The Safe Water Network of India in collaboration with its donors established a Small Water Enterprises (SWEs) called iJal locally means “My Water” and represents “a healthy tomorrow.” These iJal stations are being operated by local women or women Self Help Groups (SHGs). They enable livelihoods for women and improve public health of the community by providing safe drinking water. Safe Water Network established these iJal stations in Telangana, which is populated with over 35 million people and comprised of 10 districts, with Hyderabad as its capital. Approximately 75% of Telangana’s surface water is contaminated by human, animal, agricultural and industrial waste, while its groundwater often contains high levels of fluoride and other contaminants. Water and sanitation-related illnesses account for 70-80% of disease in this area. During the three-month dry season that begins in March, water scarcity and drought are common; many women walk over an hour each day to find water that is ultimately still unsafe.
The study “Generating livelihoods and improving public health through women social entrepreneurship in Small Water Enterprises” was conducted with the aim to assess how women from Self Help Groups or women entrepreneurs can be mobilised to own safe water treatment plants for improving public health and to increase their livelihood.
The survey interviewed 28 women from Self Help Groups (SHGs) and female entrepreneurs who operate and maintain ten iJal stations, six from Medak District and four iJal stations in Warangal District of Telangana.
Findings of the survey have shown that the rural or semi-literate women can be skilled in technology, financial management and on micro-enterprises. The Small Water Enterprises initiative has empowered the Female Self Help Groups as water entrepreneurs, which changed their livelihoods in a more significant manner than those in cottage industry, art craft production and agriculture labour, etc. The approach enhanced the women’s social stature and their decision making power at the household level and women have started demonstrating enhanced confidence in their everyday lives. The initiative improved women’s access to monitory resources and reduced the drudgery from them as water fetches for household. Further, the programme gives evidence for policy alteration and expansion to mainstream women in local safe water supply projects through Small Water Enterprises, which ultimately contributes towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals, 6, 5, 8, 1 and 3 (Clean water and sanitation, Gender equity, Decent work and economic growth, No poverty and Good Health and well-being).
Invest on female literacy was one of the key recommendations.
Policy recommendations including promote skills and education for women to undertake engineering and hydro-geologic roles, develop tailored programme for aspire women managers and provide provisions for inclusion of women in governance and leadership roles were some of the highlighted recommendations of the survey. Social practices such as sensitising women on work-life balance, men to accept the pivotal role of women and gender equality from early childhood were recommended. There were some of the institutional recommendations made i.e. women should integrated on participatory project management, incentivising the businesses run by women and setting up platforms to allow women to leverage available microfinance opportunities.
“Previously in spite of being a SHG member, I used to be under-confident and introvert. Joining iJal programme has helped me build upon my confidence. I learnt how to operate and maintain the plant, and interact with community members. Now I actively participate as a SHG member in group meetings and also handle the iJal station operations efficiently”, said Chiluka Anuradha: SHG, operator of iJal station, Suraram, Medak District, Telangana.
Testimony of Purra Kishtamma, SHG operator of iJal station, Sangaipet, Medak District, Telangana: “Most of the women in our villages are illiterate. Those who are educated have to travel outside the village to find work. The iJal programme has given me a job opportunity within the village near to my home”.
More about iJal - Women’s Empowerment Programme
The programme piloted at Medak District, Telangana State, sought after to mainstream participation of women and promote female entrepreneurship and livelihoods. Safe Water Network’s iJal model provides safe, reliable water at an affordable price that is Indian Rupees 5 for 10 litres or USD 0.07 for 20 litres to communities of Madak, approximately 3,000 people, and uses reverse osmosis technology to address chemical contaminants, in particular fluoride. Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects (GGP), Japan and Pentair Foundation donated the project while Clean Water and Energy Trust (CWET), a local NGO Modern Architects for Rural India (MARI) and Safe Water Network India implement the project.