TC-I Tidbits

  • Education’s Woes and Pros: A new study conducted by UNESCO reveals that less than 30% of schools have access to electricity and only half of them have toilets for girls. In order to address such woeful capacity, the Rajasthan’s state government has signed a public private partnership with UNICEF to expand education across the state — the program will particularly focus on educating young girls.
  • Healthcare’s Woes and Pros: A new report by the UN reveals that India suffers from the highest abseentism rate with regard to healthcare workers, and that these no-shows will likely result in India failing to meet the Millennium Development Goals. However, a more positive story is that a new HIV test can be administered rapidly to pregnant women in rural areas, enabling doctors to administer the necessary treatment to prevent transmission to the baby.
  • Mobile Technology: With the advent of 3G coming to India soon, Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) is looking to new ways to use the increased speeds to connect to the rural poor of India.
  • Energy: In Jharkhand, the government looks to wind to help power the future of that region.

Soap Operas and Social Change: UNICEF gets it

There has been considerable discussion with regard to the role of Cable television in influencing womens’s status in India. Not long ago a couple of economists from the NBER used panel data in India and found that introduction of Cable TV increases autonomy among women, reduced incidence of domestic violence, increased female school enrollment and reduced preferences for a male child [study PDF here]. Given that women-centric soaps constitute major chunk of TV viewership, some authors have directly attributed the changes in women’s status to the impact of popular soaps.

Its no surprise that UNICEF, in partnership with India’s national broadcaster Doordarshan is launching a prime-time TV series called Kyunki…Jeena Issi Ka Naam Hai’ (‘Because…That’s What Life Is’) [via UNICEF](c) UNICEF India 2008

Built around UNICEF’s global publication ‘Facts for Life’, the
series – which beings airing today – will touch on an array of issues
critical to India’s achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

‘Facts for Life’ aims to improve children’s lives by educating
parents and caregivers with information that they can act upon. The
tele-series will depict characters tackling real-life issues, while
providing valuable messages to the public. Its goal is not only to
entertain but also to educate, on subjects ranging from maternal
mortality and HIV prevention to girls’ education.

What differentiates this from prior efforts to use TV as a medium for creating awareness and influencing change is that UNICEF has taken a mainstream approach. Clearly documentaries and plain awareness films do not create enough viewership given the level of TV clutter in India today. However, with a gripping drama series, UNICEF expects the soap to be watched by 40 million women nationwide.

[Image (C) UNICEF India 2008]

Of Toilets and Schools

According to international NGO WaterAid, India has the second worst sanitation access in the world, accounting for 43% of the world’s unserved sanitation population.  Moreover, as per a UNICEF country survey from 2004, rural areas of India are particularly lacking in sanitation infrastructure, with only 33% of villages using “adequate sanitation facilities.”

The effect of inadequate sanitation facilities and practices is staggering, resulting in poor community health, low education levels, and unforeseen economic costs for poor families.  This problem is especially acute with respect to schools, as unhygienic pratices within school translate into unhygienic practices within the home.  Moreover, in schools where separate toilet facilities are not provided for girls, a higher proportion of girls drop out of school, especially after the onset of menstruation.  Unfortunately, the majority of schools in developing countries do not have access to either basic sanitation facilities or clean drinking water, a problem that activists such as Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, believe can be ameliorated through minimal funding and a concerted effort on behalf of NGOs, governments, and local communities.   In fact, as quoted in an article published by OneWorld South Asia, “water experts estimate that an additional $15 billion a year for the next seven years could bring safe water and sanitation facilities to half the communities in the world that still need them.”

With this thinking in mind,  the Wash-In-Schools initative, spearheaded by Water Advocates, was launched yesterday.  The program aims to “bring clean drinking water, toilet facilities, and hygiene education to 1,000 schools in developing countries during its first phase.”  In order to maximize impact, the initiative is bringing together a host of actors from a variety of sectors – NGOs, corporate executives, bankers, school children, and government officials.  Aside from the direct benefits,

 The initiative would also have significant spillover benefits, participants said, as women and children wouldn’t have to walk such long distances to gather water for their families, thus leaving more time for studying, working, and other activities. Fewer sick community members would mean fewer girls and boys leaving school to care for relatives, and children would be expected to pass on the health-safety information they learn at school to their parents, out-of-school peers, and others in the community. 

At ThinkChange India, we laud this partnership, but hope that the money infused into this campaign for building sanitation facilities is also supplemented by a more long-term, education-based campaign in order to alter individual/community behavior/attitudes towards sanitation.  Often, culture, tradition, religion, and lack of education serve as barriers to safe sanitation practices, and even in instances where communities have access to sanitation infrastructure, they do not capitalize on usage.  The installation of sanitation facilities or clean water without a significant attitudinal shift with regards to sanitation practices would, I believe, have minimal impact.  In this instance, the integration of sanitation and clean water practices into the school curriculum would address both physical needs and long-term mindset.

Source:  OneWorld South Asia