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Safe Water Network Celebrates #Waterwomen With Three Profiles From India

Around the world, women are passionately involved in all levels of water governance. Their hard work, however, can often be overlooked. That is why Safe Water Network has joined the Stockholm International Water Institute in its #WaterWomen campaign, featuring profiles of women as decision makers, water managers, effective water users, and stewards. #WaterWomen seeks to “collect images that illustrate these important roles and tell the stories of women as invaluable water managers, decision makers and users.” In this spirit, Safe Water Network has compiled three case studies from India that give a glimpse of the contributions #WaterWomen make every day. 

Case Study 1 

Operator: Rama Devi 

Location: The village of Gollapadu, Khammam district, Telangana, India 

Gollapadu, a village in the Khammam district of the Indian state of Telangana, is one of the country’s most socially and economically disadvantaged. The community depends on ground water (through hand pumps and bore wells) for drinking. Often this water is contaminated with fluoride and salinity, which can lead to weak bones, joint pain, and skeletal deformity. Rama Devi, newly married, came to this village and began pursuing a post-graduate degree. She worked on various social programs, such as awareness campaigns for children who do not attend school, efforts to construct toilets and rid her village of open defecation, and the construction of rainwater harvesting pits. Respected in her community, women in the village often seek her advice. 

Upon learning about Safe Water Network and its mission to facilitate the construction of iJal Safe Water Stations—locally owned and operated water treatment facilities—she persuaded her husband to make an investment. With a keen understanding of the relationship between water quality and good health, Rama was confident that she could convince the community to patronize her new iJal Station, featuring safe water priced as low as 9 cents per 20 liters. She underwent extensive training on: the technical and operational aspects of running the facility; maintaining financial viability; monitoring water quality; and submitting monthly reports. 

Friendly and passionate, Rama worked tirelessly to enroll new customers. She approached them at home, at their work—which included farms, facilities producing beedis (thin cigarettes), and women-run “self-help groups”—and attended various functions and gatherings to explain the health benefits of safe drinking water. In her demonstrations, Rama compares the quality of groundwater with that of treated water from her iJal Station, using water quality field test kits and an electrolyser test. She even installed sound amplification system on her husband’s auto rickshaw to help her create awareness of her iJal Station and safe water found within. Rama’s husband, meanwhile, uses the rickshaw to distribute water. A passion project of Rama’s focuses on the engagement of pregnant women and nursing mothers, ensuring the health of the newly born and the yet-to-be-born. Each day, her business provides free water cans to local schools and Aanganwadis (government-run nurseries). 

Rama has been serving treated water from her iJal Station for the last three years, and is very proud of her achievement. She feels that this initiative will go a long way toward meeting her goal of improving the health of her community and bringing dignity to the lives of those who have access to safe, affordable water—now and in future. 

Impressed with her work for the society, representatives of the local Panchayat government and other local bodies seek Rama’s advice while considering any major decisions. 

Case Study 2 

Operator: Manikanta, a women-run “self-help group” 

Location: The village of Jammikunta, Medak district, Telangana, India 

100 kilometers from Hyderabad, the capital city of the Indian state of Telangana, lies a sleepy district called Medak. In Medak, the daily lives of its residents are not that much different than the lives lived by their grandparents and their great-grandparents before them. This simpler way of life also applies to the district’s water quality: the water here is contaminated with fluoride, nitrates, salinity, and iron contaminants. 

Since January of 2017, this scenario has been changing: Manikanta, a women-run “self-help group,” has been instrumental in bringing positive change to the Medak village of Jammikunta. The three primary members of this self-help group, Bhoolaxmi, Suvarna, and Saraswati, are proud entrepreneurs who run an iJal Safe Water Station in Jammikunta, which provides access of safe, affordable water to approximately 1,200 households. The three entrepreneurs were skeptical of the water enterprise model at first, but when Safe Water Network came to the village and demonstrated their focus on financial and operational sustainability, they began to see how this opportunity could help to significant reduce waterborne illnesses in their community. Suvarna may be the only one with formal education, but all three bring an entrepreneurial spirit to the provision of safe, affordable drinking water for members of their community. 

Though the members of Manikanta were relative novices when it came to running a venture such as this, they understood that the key to generating demand for safe water began with changing old ways of thinking. Over time, Manikanta developed a belief that, as long as they have the will and the courage, women can do just about anything—no matter the obstacles that come their way. 

In a village like Jammikunta, where the local population competes for free but untreated groundwater, demand for safe drinking water was non-existent. Manikanta launched an awareness program to educate villagers on the need of consuming safe drinking water. When Manikanta had first started working with Safe Water Network, could barely communicate the benefits of clean drinking water amongst themselves, let alone in front of an audience. But after undergoing a rigorous training program provided by Safe Water Network, which included demonstrations on how the plant is run and how the water is purified, Manikanta was then able to share this information with the rest of the villagers. The trio now conduct electrolyser demonstrations, door-to-door campaigns, specialized programs for pregnant women, and awareness programs at village meetings, schools, and aanganwadis (government-run nurseries). 

For Bhoolaxmi, Suvarna, and Saraswati, the iJal Station is not only a means for making a living, but also their way of connecting with a social cause: being composed of women, Manikanta appreciates the challenges of pregnant women, and provides pregnant community members with free drinking water. They also provide free water to villagers during festivals and village meetings, as part of a broader campaign to attract community members to their iJal Station. 

Over a short span of seven months, Manikanta has managed to attract a base of 450 families, who buy between 100 and 120 20-liter cans each day. Beyond the positive health benefits their drinking water has produced, Manikanta has even managed to bring about positive environmental change: the reject water that the iJal Station produces as a byproduct is now used for the cleaning of toilets and the watering of gardens at local government schools. 

As this trio’s story proves, as long as she has the will and the courage, a woman can do just about anything—no matter the obstacles that come her way. 

Case Study 3 

Community WASH Mobiliser: Rani, a leader of Divya, a women-run “self-help group”  

Location: Amedkar Nagar Colony, Medak district, Telangana, India 

Ambedkar Nagar, a small settlement in the Medak district of Telangana, India, depends on untreated groundwater. The water here is contaminated with fluoride, nitrates, and salinity. Members of the community can be seen walking with makeshift crutches, as many are suffering from skeletal fluorosis. The teeth of children are often mottled, and incidences of stunting are common. Rani, the leader of a women-run “self-help group” named Divya, understood need for safe water and its health benefits. So when Safe Water Network began promoting the benefits of safe water, she urged her fellow self-help group members to invest in one of Safe Water Network’s iJal Safe Water Stations as a way to reduce waterborne illnesses in Ambedkar Nagar. 

As a young mother, Rani had seen her two young children frequently fall sick due to consumption of contaminated water. During that period there was no water treatment facility in the village, and boiling or filtering failed to solve the problem. She saw this iJal Station as a unique opportunity and, with missionary zeal, she began educating her community on the relationship between water and health. With this awareness program, she began talking to households, pregnant women, aanganwadis (government-run nurseries) and schools throughout the village. One could see her passionately conducting water quality tests at homes using field test kits and TDS (total dissolved solids) meters, and tirelessly explaining the virtues of safe water, personal hygiene, and sanitation. To drive home her presentations, she compares the cost of monthly water spent at her iJal Station to that spent on doctors’ fees and medicine. “I have seen how safe water changed the health of my family” Rani said. “Sometimes, I share my own experience or I tell how drinking safe water will reduce doctor bills.” 

Respected in Ambedkar Nagar, Rani leads excellent consumer mobilization programs, and hopes to enroll each and every member of her community.