The Problem With Insisting That Lack Of Toilets Cause Rapes

Posted on July 9, 2014

By Jason Jayology:

Numerous articles have chronicled the lack of proper sanitation in the weeks following the gang-rapes and lynching of two girls in Uttar Pradesh. NPR’s Julie McCarthy in the United States penned, “How A Lack Of Toilets Puts India’s Women At Risk Of Assault.” In the article McCarthy relays the sentiment of Guddo Devi, the cousin of the two girls murdered in Uttar Pradesh: “When we step out of the house we are scared,” Devi says. “And we have to go in the mornings, in the evenings, and when we cannot stop ourselves, at times we go in the afternoons as well. … And there are no bathrooms. We don’t have any kind of facility. We have to go out.”

Image Credit
Image Credit

In another version of this article published in India’s Deccan Herald, reporter Nilanjana S Roy notes that having a toilet near their workplace, “affects women’s ability to work, their safety (many rapes in slums and rural India happen in areas where women have to walk a long way to reach the toilet) and their mobility.”

We sincerely, and with all due respect, disagree with the sentiments of these articles.

Toilets don’t rape women, men do. Men, and violent misogynistic entitlement is the problem. We need to examine those two aforementioned elements, and why socially, and culturally we are all tied to a common global thread of misogyny that dehumanizes women, objectifies women, limits women, lessens women’s humanity, and opens the gate to violence against women.

Everyone has the right to sanitation to prevent disease, not to prevent rape. Why do you think women have less facilities than men in the first place? We would guess that with any oppressed group, they are not seen as worthy of the investment. Caste and economic status also further devalues women and lessons their access to proper sanitation. Who do you think was in charge of the allocation of resources to make the initial investment that forgot that women might need a place to relieve themselves? You think it might have been men? Do you think the misogynistic blinders may have averted them from noticing that for every men’s bathroom there was none for women? Who do you think created the use of caste as a value system to derail the allocation of investments for entire peoples, and devalue them for oppression of the upper caste? It might have been men; we would look it up in history but guess who omitted those facts? Maybe men?

Does a man who goes and relieves himself out in the open ever have to worry about rape?

Blaming it on toilets puts the burden on women. Women are being raped and it is not because of a lack of toilets. What should women do once they are on the toilets: stay there? Never leave home? In Julie McCarthy’s NPR article, Guddo Devi relays that she is afraid to leave the house. Leaving the house encompasses more than just going to the bathroom. So, this solution of more toilets gives them some wiggle room as to what they’re doing before they are raped?

This isn’t to say all men are the problem.

How did the idea that a lack of toilets proliferate from India to the United States? Did no one in the entire journalistic world covering these stories happen to notice that women in North America are being raped with grave impunity everywhere from high school to college, on the street, even when reporting rape? Daisy Coleman ring a bell? Didn’t a judge call a fourteen-year-old girl who was raped and killed herself a “temptress,” and didn’t her teacher, who raped her only get sentenced to 35 days in prison after some small spark of public outrage? What about when women are raped in Europe, Australia and everywhere in between, would toilets prevent all those rapes too?

In the Deccan Herald article, it relays that women are afraid to make the long treks to bathrooms, especially in what they call “the slums.”

How would you explain the women who are raped by spiritual leaders? Do those happen in these so-called slums? When they are raped on buses, taxis, at school, are those rapes caused by poor slum neighborhoods, or lack of toilets?

Everyone has the right to equality in access of sanitation, for a multitude of reasons mostly to prevent disease, not to prevent rape. These are some important additives that seem to get flushed down the toilet in all of the surface assessments.

Perhaps, to a certain degree, critical reasoning and denial are the problem. The people asking the question may also be a part of the problem. Maybe they aren’t trained to ask the right questions, and simply regurgitating what leaders who assume power are saying?

Misogyny is without a doubt the problem. The institutionalization of misogyny is the supreme problem. The lack of value in educating boys not to emulate men who have already been tainted by misogyny is a huge part of the problem, but these men control entire education systems, are deans of colleges, and hold the political offices, putting the allocation of resources and values square in the hands of misogynists. So, we can’t expect them to wake up one morning, look in the mirror and say, “I’m a misogynist, I should change myself.”

Maybe an even bigger problem is us, in our ability to just accept violence against women, and gloss over it because the dehumanization of women has been so mainstreamed by the lame stream media. It’s easier that way, right? Then you don’t really have to change society, culture, or people, as you just build a few toilets and everything is better. We don’t have to challenge the rules of those benefiting from violence against women.

Nonetheless, if we are waiting for these people to stand up and change we will be waiting for a moment that will never come.

Statement by: JJ, Co-Artistic Director of Price of Silence
Edited by: Sioux Mahadeo

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