How many times in a day (from the sunrise to sunset) do you use a toilet? Have you ever stopped yourself from urinating for an hour or two because no facility was available? Your answer could be 5, 6, or 10 times. But imagine if you did not have any proper place to ease yourself. If there was no place to change a sanitary pad and you had to wait for the sun to set in the west.
“Globally, India continues to be the country with the highest number of people (597 million people) practicing open defecation,” states the Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation — 2014 Update . Open defecation causes many chronic diseases like diarrhea and other communicable diseases. It is also a major cause of child mortality .
As an AIF Fellow I have been placed in Lok Sahbhagi Sansthan (LSS). LSS was established in 2010 with a vision to bring effective changes by using micro-finance and technological, scientific approaches to promote sustainable development in rural Rajasthan. Micro-finance is a proven platform for both economic and social empowerment, as the poor and marginalized get access to resources not available to them through traditional means, such as banks, and realize their own power to effect change in society. For this reason we refer to our micro-finance groups as self-empowerment groups (SEGs).
Working with LSS, I feel the problems of women and toilet issues deeply. I have seen this issue before, but as I spend time and develop an insider perspective, I see the problem with new eyes. On one fine day I witnessed a shocking incident, detailed below:
At about 4 pm of one day, I was coming back from the field in the front seat of a Jeep. About 2 km from my source point, I observed a women covering her face as she began to squat on the side of the road. It was not very surprising for me as I understood that she wanted to ease herself but what surprised me was that her husband who was accompanying her (I assume he was her husband) was waiting for her 50 meters away, covering his face with the black glass of his helmet.
This one-minute incident shook me from inside. I was distressed. There was a long queue of questions in my head but I was unable find answers. I have listed down some of these questions.
What was so embarrassing so that the husband needed to cover his face with a helmet?
Don’t we know that women also go through the same digestive system and hence need to release?
If open defecation for women is a matter of shame for men, then what have they done to stop this practice?
Do they know that every woman goes through menstrual cycle in which their body discharge bloods and that they use cotton clothes or sanitary napkins to absorb this?
What can I do to help these people build their personal toilet?
How is the toilet related to dignity and security of the women?
In searching for the answers to these questions, I listened to the local Self Help Groups (SHG) of women, who sit together once in a month and discuss issues of the community and village. They discussed on the given topic and came to the conclusion that every woman of the group will make her personal toilet. However, it is not easy to get monetary support so they further decided to use the savings of the group to build toilets.
I have prepared myself to be challenged by the scarcity of money available to build a toilet and to solve this I am in constant touch with the Block development officers and probably will be able to get the 12000 rupees for each household under the Swachh Bharat Campaign started by Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi on 2 October 2014. I just hope that the courage of people of the village will not be let down, and that they will overcome this problem. I also hope the men who spent the major parts of the day at tea shop by playing cards and taking part in political discussions will also join this movement and make their women proud.
In the next blog, I will inform you of our progress.
Your suggestions and comments are most welcome.
 World Health Organization and UNICEF. Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: 2014 Update. Geneva, WHO Press: 2014, p. 11.