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Monday Musings: Empower women with social innovations

The waste-pickers of our country work in sub-human conditions which should force all of us to hang our heads in shame.

pune Updated: Nov 19, 2017 21:40 IST
Abhay Vaidya
Abhay Vaidya
Hindustan Times, Pune
Monday Musings,Empower,Women
A waste picker sorting the waste at the Baner waste sorting shed on Tuesday, November 14.(Sanket Wankhade/HT PHOTO)

On Friday, 17 November, Anil Gupta, the passionate promoter and crusader of social innovations, made an important point while speaking at the fifth National Conference on Social Innovation organised by the Pune International Centre.

Gupta stressed on the need for social innovations for the under-privileged women in the country. The presence of innovations are least in sectors populated by women, he pointed out, and cited harvesting of tea-leaves as an example. How many thousands of hand movements does a woman make during a day’s work while plucking tea leaves at a tea garden! Can’t some innovation make her work and life easier, he wondered.

Gupta is certainly right, and indeed, an area where social innovations are most urgently required, are in the area of waste-picking. Once again, a sector dominated by women, the waste-pickers of our country and our city work in subhuman conditions which should force all of us to hang our heads in shame.

On November 15, our pages carried a detailed report with telling pictures of SWaCH waste-pickers surrounded by heaps of garbage bags and segregating the garbage inside bags with their bare hands. (15 November, ‘Citizens’ failure forces SWaCH women to segregate filthy garbage in Pune’). Apart from rotting food packed in plastic bags, these women have to pick used sanitary napkins and condoms and throw them in the right bin at the sorting shed. They don’t like wearing gloves provided to them because their hands sweat quickly and they find them inconvenient.

SWaCH is handsomely funded by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and this corporatised-NGO parades these women at international conferences and pats its own back for work well done. Indeed, the work done by Baba Adhav and the founders of SWaCH in improving the lives of waste-pickers is commendable. However, if you want these women to sit in garbage sorting sheds and sift garbage- because it is not being done by the citizens at large- then please introduce social innovations where they don’t have to touch hazardous biomedical waste with their hand.

The existing system is unsatisfactory and we need innovative systems at the garbage sorting sheds. What comes to mind instantaneously is a conveyor belt where a part of the garbage sorting is done mechanically and the rest, manually, with women wearing gloves standing alongside the belt and doing their assigned task.

There is enough funding available with the PMC for this, apart from the Rs 100 crore-plus that the industrialist-philanthropist Adar Poonawalla has pumped in to help address the crisis of garbage management in the city.

Waste-pickers and other conservancy staff of our cities and our nation deserve far greater respect and support than they have got so far. Our solid waste management strategies must address their concerns adequately. We will continue to focus our attention on this, along with other aspects of waste management in the city.

First Published: Nov 19, 2017 21:39 IST