You Beneath Your Skin and World Toilet Day
If you’ve read my last posts, my friend, Damyanti Biswas has written a compelling and timely novel entitled, You Beneath Your Skin, about, among other things, acid attacks in India. But a subplot of this gripping crime novel is the abject poverty that many in India face, including lack of access to WASH — water, sanitation, and hygiene.
I’ll let Damyanti tell you a little more about it with her post below, written just for Green Life Blue Water which highlights the worldwide sanitation problem, especially in developing nations.
World Toilet Day – by Damyanti Biswas
November 19 was declared World Toilet Day by the United Nations. It sounds gimmicky, but it actually highlights a pretty serious issue.
Women in the West have ready access to the toilets, and 97 percent of women in the US and Europe can easily find a safe, hygienic toilet when they need it. Japanese women face the choice of what sort of music the toilet should play while they relieve themselves.
In stark contrast in large parts of India, toilets, or lack of them, pose a risk to health and safety.
A large percentage of rural India has no access to safe toilets, and this has led to cases of women being raped and murdered because they went out into the open in the dark. According to Unicef, 50 percent of rapes in India used to occur when women went to relieve themselves in the open. In 2014, two teenage girls were raped and found hanging from a tree after going outside because they had no access to an indoor toilet.
Snakes, scorpions and other insects abound in the fields, riverbanks and open spaces which the women are forced to use due to lack of proper facilities. Not drinking and eating enough because of lack of toilets and holding in the bodily functions for prolonged periods are common practices in many households. Women also contract urinary, reproductive tract and kidney infections due to poor hygiene in public toilets. Menstrual health becomes a concern because of the lack of sanitary products and changing facilities. In urban India, in many cases, workplaces provide clean toilets for men, but not for women. This includes police stations and even government offices.
Two years ago, the courts granted a woman a divorce because her husband could not provide her with a toilet in their home. This incident sparked widespread discussion and led to a Bollywood movie named : Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (Toilet: A Love Story), where a man had to get the sanitation facilities in his entire village fixed in order to keep his marriage intact. This movie and other campaigns tied into the government campaign of Swachh Bharat—where millions of toilets were constructed over a period of five years.
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Nation for India had stressed the importance of sanitation, and in honor of 150 years of his birth anniversary, the Swacch Bharat campaign was to declare India open-defecation-free. “Sanitation,” Gandhi once said, “is more important than political independence.”
While a staggering number of toilets have indeed been constructed, not all of them have running water or are cleaned regularly, and many have fallen into disuse. Toilets need to be constructed in well-lit areas, kept hygienic, and guarantee the safety of the women using it, which is often not the case. A lot still needs to be done for the proper maintenance and cleaning of toilets in rural India, and women and men alike need to be trained in their proper usage and upkeep.
In urban areas, especially the slums, where cramped quarters and lack of sanitation facilities can often endanger women’s safety, toilets are even more important. In my debut crime novel You Beneath Your Skin, a woman is kidnapped, drugged and raped because she was vulnerable, having stepped out of her home to relieve herself at night. She eventually succumbs to the effects of the drug, leaving a small child and a hapless husband behind.
Some progress is being made towards providing accessible and safe sanitation for women with initiatives like the Pink toilets in Delhi and WoLoo in Mumbai. These are well-lit, properly maintained, disabled-friendly, with proper signages and sanitary products available.
India continues to lose about 6.4 percent of its GDP, or $166 billion every year, to infections and other health consequences of poor sanitation. Access to proper sanitation is a human right. Without this, it is not very useful to talk about equality and freedom—a girl or woman with no access to clean and safe toilets is not able to work at her full potential, be it at school or the workplace.
Let us hope there will be a day when no woman on this planet would be shamed for needing to go to the toilet, or fear rape and murder while trying to relieve herself. A World Toilet day would then no longer be needed.
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Thanks for reading.
pam lazos 12.15.19