Why Clean Toilets Are a Privilege For Women?

In a country where women have limited access to toilets, having a clean one is truly a privilege.

As we approach World Toilet Day 2021, we are reminded of the country’s long-suppressed issue of a lack of clean toilets. Even with the initiatives like Swachh Bharat Mission in place, the sanitation facilities for women are still substandard. This has led women to resort to open defecation, use unhygienic bathrooms or hold it in, causing UTIs. It affects their health and causes serious medical problems.

Access to toilets comes under the human right to sanitization. “It entitles everyone, without discrimination, to have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and dignity.”

However, more often than not, women are denied this right. In most rural areas in India, there aren’t any toilets at home. These women usually belong to the underprivileged sections, who may or may not have washrooms at home. Even if they do, women aren’t allowed to use them. As a result, they have to resort to open fields either before sunrise or after sunset. This also puts them at risk of sexual harassment and also animals lurking around the fields.

Unhygienic public latrines in schools and other government institutions stop women from using them and rather hold the pee in. They keep their water intake to a minimum so that they don’t have to go. The sight of these washrooms can make one vomit. Imagine having to sit in them, blocking your nose because the smell is unbearable with a flush that doesn’t work. They don’t have a tap to wash their hands.

It becomes a breeding ground for diseases, and some women have to go through it daily. It causes diarrhoea, undernutrition, soil-transmitted infection and affects their immunity. Lack of proper sanitation facilities forces girls to skip school. It reduces the attendance and retention rate of females.

Prof Vinod Jain, senior faculty at the King George’s Medical University, says: “In India, 80% of women suffer from urinary tract infection once in a lifetime.” There are different patterns of infections found in women living in urban and semi-urban areas wherein women try to pee standing or expedite the process to avoid getting noticed by people and vehicles nearby. This has a physical and psychological effect on these women who have to take this chance every day. Such is the sad state of thousands of women. In a country where women have limited access to toilets, having a clean one is truly a privilege. It makes us question the way women are treated and why they are always the ones living on the edges.

India is on the path of progress, but the sanitation facilities in the country show the real picture. Women have been bearing the brunt of it for years now. We need a structured and organized plan to improve sanitation facilities and give women greater access to clean toilets. There is a need to build more washrooms and public ones to be cleaned multiple times a day. The government can work with NGOs and private organizations and take initiatives towards better sanitation for women.

It’s high time that women should stop compromising for their basic needs and hide behind the bushes urinating in fear. They shouldn’t have to put their safety at risk for something which is a human right.

When you think about what people around the world go through on a daily basis, our problems seem minor. On the positive side, a remote and poverty-stricken land in the Sundarbans finally has an English medium school. Read this blog to know more about it. You can also read our other blogs on the website.

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