Nurture Women’s Dignity With Care!

Access to clean toilets, with running water, electricity and sewerage connection, is a major issue for women and girls in India. Despite the fact that urination and defecation are basic bodily functions, 70% of households in rural and urban slums lack access to functioning toilets. 60% of the country still defecates in the open, with consequences ranging from polluted water bringing fatal infections to the women and children using it, to women carrying extreme risk of being sexually assaulted.

Toilets are not just a requirement to carry out our daily ablutions within four walls and protect our modesty, privacy, health and hygiene, but also a way to do it safely.

As an example, one can cite the Badaun gang-rape-cum-murder case of 2014- two teenage girls in Badaun, a remote village of UP, had stepped out of home at night to defecate- and ended up being gang-raped and hung from a tree.

Earlier the same year, during the LS elections, PM Modi, who was then a prime ministerial candidate, promised to solve India’s problem of lack of toilets and sanitation by building toilets.

Also Read – Women’s hygiene in India: The scenario today

He seemed to come through on his promise, when 1 million toilets were built under the flagship scheme. But, as it turns out, majority of these toilets are not being used because of two reasons:

  1. These toilets aren’t equipped with connections to drains, and running water.
  2. Unfortunately, the implementer seemed to have forgotten that building toilets is not enough- you have to educate potential users on why they must use them, and how, and about following sanitary practices.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s not just the poor, underprivileged women in rural and semi-urban areas who find lack of toilets a problem. Even in the metros, urban, middle class, educated women find access to toilets a problem. While working as a market researcher several years ago, I used to travel around the city, to pharmacies and hospitals to see doctors. I found the lack of public restrooms to be a major irritant, and the ones I did find were filthy and apparently disused, and not very safe.

But our counterparts in the hinterlands are facing bigger problems- girls are dropping out of school because there are no restrooms in the school buildings. Recently, a girl in a Jharkhand village killed herself because her father refused to build a toilet at home, forcing her to defecate and urinate in the open.

58% of community toilets in slums have no electricity, and 78% have no water or sewerage connections. Another problem is that slum toilets are filthy- they stink to the high heavens, and this is accompanied by the presence of cockroaches, lizards, maggots etc in the toilets. Add to that the poor ventilation- often due to women stuffing sanitary pads within the toilet itself due to lack of proper disposal outlets. For women, the problem is compounded because:

  1. There are fewer toilet seats for women.
  2. Ventilation is poor, so women have to often squat with the door partially open.
  3. Community toilets are often not segregated properly between men and women- following which women have complained of being leered at or harassed.
  4. Often, women have to use those toilets at night, which is even more unsafe.
  5. Several health problems are imperative on women using unclean public toilets- urinary infections, bladder and kidney malfunction due to prolonged retention periods etc.

The solution to preventing open defecation, and also preventing the adverse effects of using poorly maintained public toilets, is to establish washrooms which are:

  1. Easy to install
  2. Easy to use
  3. Convenient- ensures privacy
  4. Easy to maintain and keep clean and odour free
  5. Safe

Organica Biotech, a Mumbai based Environmental Biotechnology company, has come up with a product known as Bioclean BD. It is a consortium of beneficial microbial strains which can degrade complex organic matter to water and carbon dioxide, under anaerobic conditions, in a short period of time. It has the following advances:

  1. It eleiminates foul odour by accelerating degradation of toxic organic waste into harmless by products.
  2. They also provide biological solution to the problem of clogging in existing portable toilets and pit latrines.
  3. The microbes in BD have increased shelf life
  4. Microbes in BD compete with pathogens for nutrients, therefore preventing growth of undesirable microbes.

Also Read – Gender And Sanitation