Experience sharing to India CSR network, Rusen Kumar in conversation with Deepa Menon, founding member of PVR NEST, a unique story of Cinema industry.
Lack of basic sanitation in cities systematically impedes the growth of a significant demographic of the population – women. Numerous studies have indicated the socio-economic consequences that the lack of public toilets has brought about. We at PVR NEST strongly believe in transforming urban spaces and facilities to be more safe, inclusive, accessible and cater to the basic needs of people from marginalized communities and make cities more livable.
The gender disparity in the availability of toilets to women is startling, with only around 300 toilets available for women in Delhi – many of them dysfunctional, in contrast to around 4000 made available to men. Women are tragically familiar with extreme forms of bladder control and conscious consumption of less water when they travel, all to avoid the dreaded search for a toilet.
The abysmal lack of public toilets for women is not the end of it, but the disadvantage spills over to the facilities found in these toilets as well. For instance, while the men’s section has six toilet seats, two baths and fifteen urinals, the women’s section is restricted only to three toilet seats. In contrast to the spacious men’s section, the open area in the women’s section compromises a narrow corridor.
Sadly, more often than not, this does not only affect women but also children as a woman is usually the primary caregiver to a child, especially for their sanitary needs. Therefore, the adverse impact this has both on women and children discourages many from travelling thereby affecting their education and work.
These challenges do not even begin to scratch the surface of the problem, as it is not just reduced to a disparity of numbers or facilities. Women are significantly more dependent on public toilets given their broader sanitation needs, as a result, these spaces need to double up with several other facilities. For instance, Menstrual Health Management is proving to be a matter of grave concern, inhibiting development in several ways.
There are a staggering 355 million menstruating women and girls in India. While sanitation facilities need to play a crucial role in Menstrual Health Management by providing space for a safe and dignified means of management, they barely meet the most basic need of space and hygiene and fail grievously to address the need. It is painfully evident that policy framing and implementation hasn’t recognized the experiences, needs, and barriers faced by women and girls, and as a result, has had serious consequences.
Women are at greater risk of sexual molestation and rape as they search for places for open defecation that are secluded. Studies have shown that lack of toilets is an impediment to girls’ education as 23% of girls drop out of school after they start menstruating. Additionally, poor menstrual hygiene results in adolescent girls missing 5 days of school in a month. This leads to fewer girls going to school, which in turn affects their job prospects, and eventually their contribution to society. Availability of sanitation facilities helps in decreasing school dropout rates, increasing school attendance, improving literacy rates and the risk of harassment and violence against women. Therefore, where public toilets are either not adequate in number, or disregard women’s basic requirements, movement and productivity of women and girls is restricted, affecting their ability to lead and participate in community and public life.
PVR NEST, was founded in 2006 as a CSR arm of PVR Limited – the largest and the most premium film exhibition company of India. As an organisation we envision sustainable, liveable cities with safe multi-utility spaces that empower women and children. Pink Toilet, as an initiative was conceptualized by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in association with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and PVR NEST with a vision to create sustainable multi-purpose facilities for children and women, which in addition to being used as rest-rooms, can also be utilized to raise awareness on health and hygiene, host technological interface for access to various essential services, have a responsible waste management system and stock environment-friendly biodegradable products.
This ambitious project has at its centre women’s health and socio-economic benefits that the availability of sanitation infrastructure and services provide. At the moment, in addition to providing essential and necessary facilities, these toilets are equipped with special low height toilets and basins for children, a private area for childcare, sanitary napkin vending machines, incinerators, ramps for persons with disabilities and are very well lit.
Further, trained women attendants are present to maintain hygiene and provide support and safety. The facility also includes display material to spread awareness on health and hygiene, and it has mechanisms in place that enables users to share feedback.
In a first, the project also works towards empowering women to assume leadership positions to make this endeavour women-friendly in every sense of the word. This is because, lack of women in leadership positions and roles have been determinantal to the initiative, as a result, women’s needs and priorities were being under-represented and under-discussed.
Conversely, the project being managed by women has numerous benefits like women-friendly management and workspace, minimizing the scope of bias against women, reduction of violence and harassment against women in the workplaces, other women being encouraged to aspire to leadership roles and greater employment-generating opportunities for women which in turn leads to the family having a higher quality of living.
Unfortunately, COVID19 crippled and paralyzed the entertainment industry. On the fateful day of 17 March 2020, around 7000 single screens and 3500 multiplex screens across the country were closed for operations. Being one of the worst-hit industries, movie theatres have earned virtually no revenue amidst mounting fixed expenses. This has affected lakhs and lakhs of people, to the point of some having no income for months now. The significant impact of COVID on the CSR funds has made it impossible to fund the project, as PVR has been doing, at the moment. We hope to be back in action in 2022.
The importance and necessity of public toilets have only multiplied during the pandemic, and in many instances making it a matter of life and death. Therefore, it is our firm belief that we need all hands on deck, where everyone in the social sector works together. Unfortunately, during these unprecedented desperate times, we may not always be able to come up with sustainable projects as these unusual circumstances have drastically changed life as we know it and have brought about varied and new challenges. Sadly, sometimes, critical needs are not met or engaged with as the project seems unsustainable. It is my earnest belief that the greater good outweighs sustainability, especially during a grave time like this.
PVR NEST has earned the trust of several partners owing to our commitment to the cause of transforming urban spaces and excellence, and additionally the needs we have identified and their importance. We partner with a range of public and private organisations, whose values, vision and mission align with ours. To list a few organisations:
1. National Commission for Protection for Child Rights (NCPCR) and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) are two of our oldest public partners and they conceptualised Pink Toilets and were instrumental in approving PVR NEST’s programs in making cities safe and liveable for children and women through programs such as Pink Toilets and Aanchal Childscapes.
2. Plan India supports us with the Human Centre Design Concept of 10 Pink Toilets and by directly funding the operation and maintenance of the program.
3. WaterAid India has partnered with us by collaborating their resources to develop the first ever prototype of Female Friendly Sanitation Complex in association with Municipal Corporation of Delhi – North KBZ.
4. UNICEF India partnered with PVR by supporting the COVID-19 awareness campaign in India. We are grateful to UNICEF India for bursting myths and misconceptions among our sanitation workers on COVID-19 vaccination.
5. ConAgra for providing Peanut Butter supplies through the Poshan initiative. We also thank Zomato and Giggle Foundation for reaching out and delivering the Peanut Butter supplies to the marginalised children and families as part of COVID relief support.
6. Our NGO partner – Ummeed Ray of Hope Society audits and shortlists the new Pink Toilet sites in NMCD-KBZ based on WASH and NCPCR guidelines. They are also instrumental in recommending significant changes in the identified sites.
7. We are also grateful for our partners in progress like Women, Second Act, Tvishi Services and Centre for Youth, Nazariyaa in addressing the need of safe, hygienic and accessible toilets for women and children and collaborating with PVR NEST.
(In the center- Dr Rajib Dasgupta, Chairman, Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University along with Ms. Deepa Menon and the PVR NEST team members.)