Women bring safe sanitation, shit free roads and dignity to the Simlisahi village community


By Rahul Thekdi, Chandrika Patnaik

23 June 2020

Travelling for hours to fetch water and defecating in the bushes is now a thing of the past for women of Simlisahi village. Bilasini Jena’s initiative to bring safe sanitation to her village has helped her village community become open-defecation free.

Bilasini Jena with other members of the self-help group.

Photograph by Prashant Naik

Bilasini Jena is a member of her village self-help group (SHG) in Nayagarh district’s Simlisahi village in Odisha. She was among the first in her village to raise the need for safe sanitation infrastructure for women with the panchayat. What started as weekly meet-ups to discuss problems faced by women of the village soon transformed into a movement for safe sanitation. 

Putting safety and health at risk to defecate

None of the households in Simlisahi village had toilets and bathing rooms (TBRs) in their homes. This was the first problem that Bilasini’s group addressed. Every morning and evening, women and young girls would walk long distances into the forest to relieve themselves, putting their safety at risk. Additionally, the only option available for washing, in the absence of water, was using ash or mud. 

For the women, this meant additional work. Bilasini’s father-in-law and mother-in-law could not walk. She had to carry both of them to the bushes every day so that they could relieve themselves. 

In the absence of TBRs, people of Simlisahi would go to the hill close to their village and relieve themselves at its base. Ranjan Kumar Behera, a member of the village committee, recounts the difficulties, “During monsoons, our drains used to get filled with human faeces, as the heavy rains brought down with it whatever came its way from the hill. The area used to stink and we used to think twice before going out of the house as the roads had shit floating around here and there.”

Women advocate for change

Women of Simlisahi wanted to bring an end to this misery. They carried out door-to-door campaigns to bring awareness about the benefits of adopting safe sanitation practices. This initiative started materialising in 2018 when Gram Vikas with the support of HDFC Parivartan started implementing the Holistic Rural Development Programme (HRDP) project in the village. 

All the 170 households of the village have now completed the construction of TBRs in their homes, bringing in significant relief for the community. The Village Water and Sanitation Committee (VWSC) maintains and governs the piped water supply system and ensures proper usage of sanitation infrastructure. The committee collects water charges from all the households for the maintenance and upkeep of the system. 

The local SHG plays a key role in this effort. Women are being trained and sensitised on issues relating to gender, hygiene and sanitation.

Toilets at home, dignity for women 

Bilasini feels that without the help of the women of her village and Gram Vikas, this change would not have been possible, “My workload has definitely reduced with toilets and bathrooms in my home. Children in our village no longer sit to defecate outside in the open. There used to be flies all around. With the regular availability of water and toilets in our homes, our village looks cleaner.” 

Shantilata Dey, a 36-year-old housewife, no longer does the half a kilometre walk and the trek up the hill to relieve herself every morning. She is thankful, “Now I have time to clean the house and look after my family. Walking up the hill or fetching water a number of times from the borewell was taking all my time in a day. Where was the time to clean the house?”

Kashinath Nahaka, a VWSC member cannot stop praising the women, especially Bilasini’s leadership, “She has been at the forefront to get us safe water within our homes and motivate people here to adopt safe sanitation practices by building household infrastructure. The private and safe toilets and bathrooms ensure dignity for the women of our village. We are grateful to Gram Vikas for helping us achieve this.”

Since 2019, all households have through the day piped water supply at home and individual household toilets and bathrooms. No one goes up the hill to defecate anymore.

Bilasini along with the SHG members doing door to door campaign against alcohol.

Photograph by Prashant Naik


Prashant Naik, Documentation Officer with Gram Vikas, helped in data collection. Priya Pillai edited the story.


Rahul Thekdi is a Communication Intern and Chandrika Patnaik is a Junior Manager at Gram Vikas.


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