Publication Type:

Conference Paper


2015 International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD) (2015)


Basic sanitation facilities are inaccessible to 40 percent of the world’s population (World Health
Organization 2014). The call to address the Sixth Sustainable Development Goal of “Ensuring
availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” has never been so
imperative, particularly in a nation such as India where open defecation is most rampant
(, accessed June 14, 2015; World Health
Organization and UNICEF 2014). Girls and women in rural India are disproportionately affected
by limited access to adequate sanitation (WSSCC et al. 2013). Despite countless attempts to
counteract the practice of open defecation in India, the kind of attitudinal and behavioral change
necessary to end open defecation on a large and sustainable scale have yet to bring about
widespread toilet use (Coffrey et al. 2014). The limited extent to which sanitation projects have
achieved social inclusivity among marginalized communities is recognized as a contributing
factor to the persistence of poor sanitation in India (UN Water 2008; Coffrey et al. 2014). This
paper will discuss early stages of an intervention that places a specific focus on engaging
women in rural villages within India in the goal to end open defecation. The project, Women
Empowerment: Sanitation (WE: Sanitation) is currently in implementation in seven states
throughout India and proposes that the goal of improving sanitation may best be achieved by
empowering women through vocational and life skill development. By training India’s most
unskilled population to build, use and maintain toilets, the problems of poor sanitation,
community buy-in, as well as unskilled labor may be simultaneously addressed. This paper will
discuss findings from the early stages of the WE: Sanitation intervention in rural villages within
the Indian states of: Karnataka, Gujarat and Goa, where previous sanitation efforts have failed
to take hold.

Cite this Research Publication

C. Coley, Sheshadri, S., and Rao R. Bhavani, “Training India’s first female toilet builders: An argument for improving sanitation through women empowerment and social inclusion”, in 2015 International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD), 2015.