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TIRUCHI: A virtual meeting held as part of the annual World Water Week (WWW) conference hosted by Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Sweden, on Monday threw the spotlight on the struggles and achievements of women sanitation professionals in Tamil Nadu, with special reference to Tiruchi.

Titled ‘Women in Sanitation: Glimpses from across the chain,’ the half-hour session featured the stories of K. Aravalli, who runs a de-sludging business in the city, A.P.Yakoppu, a transgender who manages a community toilet complex in Srirangam, V. Muthulakshmi, Assistant Engineer, Tiruchi Corporation and Susmita Sinha, a water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) expert.

The webinar was organised by Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Support Programme (TNUSSP) that works with the Government of Tamil Nadu to scale inclusive sanitation throughout the State, and the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS).

“Each day is different for sanitation professionals, because the working hours are unpredictable. Generally women who try to make their way in this field find that they are first ignored and then ridiculed before they fight for their rightful place in the profession,” said Ms. Muthulakshmi, a person with disability.

Yakoppu said that transgender persons should be brave enough to take up job opportunities available in sanitation. “There are many aspects in this field that offer a respectable way to earn a living which can benefit transgender people; this is why I have decided to stay on in Srirangam and manage the toilet complex. Even though society tends to shun transgenders, my mother (now deceased) and I were entrusted with maintaining the toilet even before its construction,” Yakoppu said.

Recounting her start in the profession, Ms. Aravalli said that overcoming the scepticism about her choice was a major challenge. “Now that I am well-established in sanitation, I still have to face problems like dealing with heavy equipment and appropriate work clothes.”

The lack of policies regarding women in sanitation has made it difficult to sustain progress, said Ms. Sinha. “Women are not encouraged to join, and in cases where they take maternity leave, they find it harder to resume because their work would have gone to someone else. We have to come around these issues in a comprehensive manner, to make women continue working in this sector,” she said.