Sanitary practices are an important indicator of healthy communities. However, in many developing nations like India, lack of toilets contribute to the poor state of sanitation and hygiene in the country. Unfortunately, as per the report of World Health Organisation and UNICEF India continues to have the highest number of people defecating in the open.
Defecating in the open is known to cause serious health problems and consequently, incurring huge expenditure on healthcare. The consequences of open defecation go beyond just hygiene for many women and girls. In addition to the shame of going in the open, this state poses the threat of being harassed, experiencing violence and the stress that comes with it.
Apart from the lack of toilet facilities, the state of the existing toilets is also deplorable, including poor design, lack of cleanliness and maintenance, insufficient lighting, and other infrastructural factors–that make toilets unusable for women.
Sanitation as a concept is communal in implementation. An entire locality can benefit from installing toilets only if all the houses in the vicinity to do. If only a handful installs proper sanitation systems, other households would continue to defecate in the open, thus still contributing to the threat of ingestion of faecal matter and thus spread health hazards. To understand this better, World Bank analysed a survey of more than 2,00,000 children under four years of age in rural India.It was found that diarrhoea incidences fell by 50% when proper sewage and toilets were installed in the entire locality.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise to take up the issue of clean and safe bathrooms under Swachh Bharat Mission two years ago actualised into the setting up of more than 1 million toilets.
However, the drive was to install them, and not much attention was paid to the planning it. Many toilets are still not used in the rural area as they are not connected to clean water or proper drains. The bigger problem relating to this is the removal of the stigma associated with the use of toilets and closed rooms. It is necessary to invest in widespread education to alter the people’s perception towards open defecation and the problems with the lack of sanitation.
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Women need proper toilets to avail the opportunity of proper hygiene during menstruation and changing bladder patterns during pregnancy. The absence of a toilet in a house shows the lack of agency with the woman of the house and her inability of making decisions. A possible explanation given by men could be that since they don’t use the toilets in their home, it is not a good investment.
The report of WHO and UNICEF end by indicating that we must go beyond the policies and legalities to provide women with clean toilets and rather change the widening power disparity in the domestic sphere. The national sanitation crisis will subside only if we can work towards eliminating toilet anxiety.
Picture Credit: livemint
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Jagriti is an intern with SheThePeople.TV