By Rashi Rathi, Gender Lead, Saamuhika Shakti;
consolidated inputs from all partner organisations
In 2020, nine partner organisations joined hands to launch Saamuhika Shakti to ensure that informal waste pickers in Bengaluru and their families have greater agency to lead more secure and dignified lives. The partners also committed to ensuring that women and girls have equitable access to all of the outcomes of Saamuhika Shakti. But what are the actions that they take to ensure they are reaching women and girls in their programming? Read on to find out, and share your thoughts, reflections, and feedback with us.
BBC Media Action’s PRIDE (Pathway to Respect, Identity, Dignity, and Empowerment) Project creates campaigns and content with two-fold objectives: to improve the perception that the general public has of waste pickers and to increase the pride that waste pickers have in their own work. The team ensures that all the content being produced is gender-balanced, spotlights the stories of women, and reaches female audiences.
To date, nearly 20% of stories published by BBC Media Action in online and print media showcase the stories of woman waste pickers, and close to 46% of the total ad spend budget has been used to reach female audiences.
CARE India enables waste pickers to find supplementary or alternate livelihood opportunities by improving their life skills, including digital and financial literacy, and supporting them in starting small businesses. They work largely with women waste pickers to form savings collectives that can access government schemes for micro-enterprises.
90% of the candidates that CARE India trains on livelihoods are women. The team has witnessed an increase in women’s agency because they are able to negotiate with their families to step out of their houses to participate in training, start new businesses, and further mobilise their peers to attend training and join collectives.
CARE India has also engaged men and boys in the community to support women--male role models who champion gender equality are felicitated by the team. Finally, the team conducts gender awareness training at the community level, which covers topics such as the difference between gender and sex, gender equity, stereotypical roles of men and women in society, and gender-based violence.
Social Alpha identifies innovations that accelerate waste management and processing in India, and build income stability for informal waste pickers. Through two accelerator cohorts, they support founders in piloting their innovations, largely out of Bengaluru.
The team has facilitated gender awareness sessions for founders, and mentorship discussions with business heads who are further along in their gender integration journey. This has enabled founders to reflect on their own biases and build inclusive businesses with gender-sensitive hiring practices and organisational policies.
As a promising start to the second accelerator cohort, three of five selected innovations are led by women and all have incorporated strong gender diversity and impact-focused practices at the core of their mission. For instance, one of the start-ups, Bare Necessities which sells zero-waste products, has an all-women workforce. Through the Saamuhika Shakti pilot, they plan on hiring women waste pickers to train in their business operations.
WaterAid India provides access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation for waste picker communities by building awareness and liaising with the government to build amenities.
Their hardware interventions include installing pipe connections and taps, tanks, and toilet facilities, based on a community’s needs. These reduce the time and cost burden of women’s household chores, such as procuring drinking water and cleaning responsibilities. Additionally, easy access to toilets enables better health outcomes for women and children, the ability to have a dignified period, as well as safety and privacy.
To ensure that women’s opinions are not being drowned out in public consultations for hardware interventions, the team has increased one-on-one interactions with the community to build trust and rapport, thus ensuring women are heard. In setting up maintenance committees that oversee the management of sanitation facilities, they have ensured that in the eight committees set up to date, 54% of the members are women. While the team routinely conducts WASH training with waste pickers and their families, they also specifically conduct menstrual hygiene management (MHM) training with adolescent girls and women to reduce taboos and misinformation related to menstruation.
Sambhav Foundation improves the earning potential of waste pickers and their families by providing them livelihood opportunities through skill development initiatives and employment support. The team specifically focuses on training youth, women, and disabled persons.
Close to 72% of the candidates that have gone through Sambhav Foundation’s workshops, and entrepreneurship and vocational training are women. The team is innovating its current offerings to women (such as beautician training and tailoring), to better cater to their needs. They are developing courses that are compact, of smaller duration, have fast earning potential with little investment, and can be conducted within the house, such as in candle-making and agarbatti-making.
Sambhav Foundation has an extensive operations team that is involved in mobilising and enrolling candidates into their program. The operations team has been sensitised through training on the ways and norms of counselling women candidates through this process.
Hasiru Dala drives distinct programs within Saamuhika Shakti. The first program improves informal waste pickers’ social security entitlements, which include access to government schemes (Aadhar, e-shrama, voter, widow pension, Thayi Card, amongst others), improved housing conditions, financial planning training, and health camps. Between 70-80% of the stakeholders that Hasiru Dala works with are women.
Hasiru Dala’s second program provides support systems to domestic violence and substance abuse victims. The team’s interventions towards domestic violence include individual and group counselling sessions, especially with women. The team has been conducting awareness sessions on sexual harassment and child abuse, emphasizing legal recourse. They also provide aid on a case-to-case basis, pulling in health and police authorities based on the situation. The team addresses substance abuse and domestic violence with children and youth through creative art and play therapy programs and counselling. Here, children can discuss the challenges they face in their houses, communities, and schools, and address them through art and theatre. Facilitators work with the children to explore their feelings and responses to violence and substance abuse in the family and community – all of which affect children, their education and their development adversely.
Hasiru Dala’s third program improves the working conditions of informal waste pickers by redesigning equipment and protective gear. Keeping in mind that personal protective equipment (PPE) is typically designed for men, the Hasiru Dala team has focused on the needs of women waste pickers during their initial survey. The team also observed that, since women have more responsibilities alongside their waste work, there is more pressure on them to disregard self-care and personal safety than men, making their need for PPE more intense. The surveyors also reflected a similar split to ensure that participants found them easy to relate to.
Save the Children India focuses on the quality basic education for children between the ages of 3-18 from waste picker families and neighbouring communities. Their intervention points are at a household and community level, as well as infrastructure and capacity-building at the school and Anganwadi level.
The team ensures that their enrolment drives for children into schools, Anganwadis, vocational training programs, and mobile learning centres is gender-balanced and targets both girls and boys. They also endeavour that, according to policy, School Management Committees (SMC) and Anganwadi Development Committees are gender-balanced. Additionally, parents and Save the Children staff are given gender equality trainings on topics including the roles of men and women in the house, child marriage, child rights and the right to education.
To ensure that children’s voices, especially girls’ voices are heard, the team has established anonymous suggestion boxes in 25 schools. The SMC and children are invited to open the box together on a monthly basis. In one situation, the children posted about the repeated absence of one specific girl student from the school, which was then acted upon by the Save the Children team.
The team also runs adolescent girl group meetings at a periodic level in the community to ensure specialised training and peer support amongst girls. Till date, two child marriages have been stopped because of the adolescent girl groups.
Finally, The/Nudge Institute, Saamuhika Shakti’s ‘backbone’ organisation drives the co-creation of the long-term gender strategy for all of the organisations in the collective. This involves baselining each organisation’s current level of gender integration, building a joint vision and plan for the collective’s gender and equity work, recognizing and showcasing best practices across organisations, and capacity-building to address mindset and knowledge gaps.
On a day-to-day basis, The/Nudge team ensures that Saamuhika Shakti’s work is gender sensitive and improving with every iteration. Apart from monitoring the collective’s programmatic work, the team also endeavours that all the research, communications, and knowledge management activities have a gender lens. While The/Nudge seeks to integrate gender into all of the work Saamuhika Shakti’s systematically, the team also tactically responds to every opportunity where their collective’s gender focus can be sharpened.