Kanpur, India

Meet the ‘Toilet Ladies’! Sangeeta Srivastava and Chetna Tiwari are community facilitators working for WaterAid’s partner organisation, Shramik Bharti, in Kanpur, India. They earned their nickname after motivating people to build life-changing toilets in more than 40 slums.

Sangeeta and Chetna are on a mission to reach the poorest people living in the most challenging conditions. They are currently working in Rakhi Mandi slum, home to 3,393 residents who until recently used the nearby railway tracks to go to the toilet.

Sangeeta said, “[The people here] had no idea about toilets or that they could be affordable. They didn’t connect lack of safety with lack of toilets, or understand that they are a basic need.

“We had to push really hard. We started by focusing on cleanliness and working with families to build soak pits for managing household wastewater, so that they could sense change.”

The "toilet ladies", Sangeeta Srivastava, 35, (left) and Chetna Tiwari, 39, from WaterAid local partner Shramik Bharti, outside a toilet at the home of Vinod Sahu, in Rakhi Mandi slum, Kanpur, India, 9 October 2014.
The ‘Toilet Ladies’, Sangeeta Srivastava (left), 35, and Chetna Tiwari (right), 39, from WaterAid's local partner Shramik Bharti. Photo: WaterAid/ Isabelle Neill.

Sangeeta and Chetna spread awareness of the importance of sanitation with men, women and children. They go into schools and talk to girls about menstrual hygiene.

Chetna said, “I used to work on women’s issues related to domestic violence and now I am working on water and sanitation issues. I like this work because it affects women too.

“We treat people like they are our family, and slowly people become a part of their own families. We show them love. Maybe that’s why they listen to us now. They realise we don’t have any hidden agenda. We are attached with their problems. If they have a personal issue or a health issue we will try to help them. It isn’t a burden, I feel really happy doing this work.”

Read more stories of remarkable women who have inspired change in their communities >