Lack Of Proper Toilets In India: Huge Blockage On The Road To Women Empowerment

Posted on June 9, 2014

By Anju Anna John: 

On the 27th of May, two cousins in Badaun district, got out of their homes and headed to the fields to relieve themselves. The next time the villagers saw them was in the morning; their bodies hanging from a mango tree. The girls were the latest victims of rape occurring as a result of lack of toilets.

UP rape

Inspector-General Ashish Gupta cited home department statistics while stating that 65% of the rape cases in the State of Uttar Pradesh take place when the victims step-out to relieve themselves[1]. In the adjacent state of Bihar (where about 85% of the population practice open defecation), there has been numerous instances of  rape when girls and women stepped out to defecate[2]. Similar incidents have taken place in many parts of India. In a 2011 report by the NGOs Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity (SHARE) and WaterAid, the link between sanitation and sexual violence in the context of urban slums in Delhi was highlighted[3]. The problem is not simply restricted to India. Women falling prey to rapists due to open defecation is also prevalent in many countries including Pakistan, Indonesia and, Madagascar[4].

However, it is important to note that this is one of the many ways in which lack of sanitation affects women. According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP), around 36% of the world’s population (2.5 billion people) lack proper sanitation facility[5]. Providing proper sanitation to women would have a tremendous impact on their health, hygiene, education and employability.

According to a British Medical Journal reader survey, “Sanitation is the single most important medical advance since 1840” . If the World Bank’s estimates are correct, India loses $54 billion every year due to lack of access to proper toilets. Premature deaths, cost of treatments, loss of productivity and loss of tourism are cited as the main contributors to these losses. Around 450,000 people die in our country due to diarrhoea alone.

Menstrual hygiene is another pressing issue in the case of open-air defecation. The lack of private, separate sanitation is one of the leading causes for girls dropping out of schools after puberty. Based on the Reports from Africa, girls on an average lose out 24 out of 144 weeks of learning within four years. Moreover, once these women grow up and seek employment, they either use rags that lead to infection or take leave on those days leading to economic loss to them and also their employers. Addressing women’s menstrual needs would go a long way in empowering them.

Various organisations have come out in support of raising awareness about proper sanitation and working to provide better sanitation facilities. Following the Badaun gang rape, the founder of Sulah International, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, said that it would build a toilet in every house in the village where the incident occurred[6]. He went on to urge other top business houses to adopt a village in order to tackle this issue. In an attempt to end open-air defecation, the United Nations in 2013, declared November 19th as World Toilet Day. Goal 7 Target 10 of the Millennium Development Goals is regarding safe drinking water and proper sanitation. Moreover, UNICEF’s recent campaign ‘Take Poo to the Loo’ has helped bring the issue of open-air defecation to the foreground.

In the run up to the 2014 Elections, Narendra Modi went to the extent of saying ‘Build toilets first, temples later’. Following the Badaun gang rape, Maneka Gandhi, the Women and Child Development minister, assured the public that her ministry would co-ordinate with the health ministry to make toilets a priority of the present government. Hopefully the Modi-government will actualize their plan to end open-air defecation by building toilets in homes, at schools and also in public places.


[1]Glare on toilet-rape link
[2]India Bihar rapes ’caused by lack of toilets’
[3]Perceptions of risks related to sexual violence against women linked to water and sanitation in Delhi, India,
[4]Open defecation must not be ignored
[5]Water, Sanitation and Hygiene; Introduction
[6]Every house in Badaun’s ‘infamous’ village will have toilet: Sulabh

UPDATE: The title of the article has been changed to “Lack Of Proper Toilets In India: Huge Blockage On The Road To Women Empowerment″ from “65% Rape Cases In UP Result From Lack Of Toilets And This Cannot Be Neglected”.

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