“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”- Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Women are key managers of natural resources and powerful agents of change. They can be engaged more intensely as pivotal actors in the road to sustainability and green transformation. Taking into account the central role that women often play in the success of development projects and programmes, ICLEI South Asia has been consciously working towards synergising women’s empowerment and sustainable development in a number of South Asian cities. Among these initiatives is the heartwarming story of women leading campaigns to implement sustainable waste management and promote child-friendly neighbourhoods in the city of Udaipur in India.
Homemakers: Local champions in waste management
ICLEI South Asia along with the National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) trained and capacitated local Self-Help Groups in sustainable municipal solid waste management practices in Udaipur. The empowered Self-Help Groups then conducted a series of community awareness activities to spread the message.
The initiative began with a pilot involving three Self-Help Group workers, who were trained by ICLEI South Asia as ‘Swachhta Sewaks’ or sanitation workers in holistic waste management practices. The women were then engaged to conduct awareness generation activities on waste segregation, and helped to sensitise more than 3,500 households in two wards.
They also ensured that the segregated waste was transported separately, so that the wet and dry waste could be processed efficiently. The continuous awareness campaigns and sensitisation practices motivated the people, leading to more than 60% of the households in the two wards adopting source segregation practices, and reducing littering and open dumping of waste.
Strong relationships and social networks are important for the success of any decentralised sustainability solution. In most Indian families, women do the majority of the household chores. The strategy of involving women to reach out to the women in households was the trump card that ensured the success of the initiative. Extensive dialogues with citizens and one-on-one meetings with the public, in their own language, in the two wards worked wonders in spreading the message.
Besides households, commercial establishments and schools were also involved in the campaign to ensure behavioral change among local businessmen and schoolchildren. The idea of engaging Self-Help Groups to make use of their connections with the local community and to involve these important stakeholders in the development of a participatory mechanism for promoting decentralised waste management has been a success in Udaipur.
The success of this initiative has had manifold impacts. It encouraged the Udaipur Municipal Corporation (UMC) to scale up a pilot initiative to address climate change impacts and implement greenhouse gas emission mitigation actions in the solid waste sector to 20 more wards, under the guidance of ICLEI South Asia. It also gave the Self-Help Group members a sense of achievement and confidence, and attracted more women to join the cause.
The challenges and takeaway learnings from the project were incorporated in the city-level Information Education and Communication Strategy for further implementation. The UMC has, with the help of 90 Self-Help Group members, expanded awareness generation activities to cover more than 60% of the households in the city, with wet and dry waste segregation and storage being practiced by 48% households, a rapid increase from 0% in two years.
The corporation has also trained five Self-Help Group members in the operation and maintenance of a decentralised biomethanation facility and is exploring avenues to involve more women in other waste management services.
The initiative, conducted under the Capacity Building for Low Carbon and Climate Resilient City Development (CapaCITIES) project, supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), is helping the Self-Help Group women to support their families financially and contribute towards achieving the city’s sustainable development goals.
Women in forefront of child healthcare revolution
The Urban95 programme, supported by the Bernard van Leer Foundation in Udaipur, has also seen women emerging as key players in ensuring healthy child development. The programme focuses on the fact that when urban neighborhoods work well for children under the age of five, they also tend to nurture strong communities and economic development. The initiative is meant to make a lasting change in the urban landscape and provide opportunities that can shape the crucial first five years of children’s lives. Under the programme, ICLEI South Asia focused on empowering anganwadi workers to ensure a healthier early-stage development of children in the city.
Anganwadis are regional basic healthcare facilities for children, owned and operated by the government. They deliver quality services for early childhood development and early childhood care and education under the Indian government’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme. Supported by the UMC and the ICDS department, ICLEI South Asia developed and implemented the Anganwadi Workers Training Programme, designed to train anganwadi workers in creating and adopting innovative pedagogical approaches to promote optimal growth and development of young children, specifically those under the age of six. The training helped the anganwadi workers to understand the significance of early stimulating environment, appropriate health, nutrition and nurturing care and development for children. More than 140 anganwadi workers, mostly women, took part in the programme.
Each anganwadi worker can reach out to dozens of families in the city and has the capacity to influence society to a large extent, especially the urban poor. Their involvement helps to create a multiplier effect, thereby sensitising people to build strong and healthy communities.
The initiatives in Udaipur showcase how empowerment of women at the grassroots level can have a positive ripple effect on society, in addition to creating livelihoods and social value for women. Opportunities to create such synergies should be explored more to create smart, resilient and gender-inclusive cities.