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Private toilets for rural women continue to transform lives in India

Source: WNN - Women News Network - Wed, 4 Apr 2012 16:01 GMT
Author: Women News Network// Shuriah Niazi
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Women News Network

(WNN) Bhopal, India - A new women’s movement has been building in rural India. It’s demanding something never considered before for women who often live in areas without adequate or clean running water. Often these are homes with that have no vented heating or adequate flooring.

The demand for decent toilet facilities is  a real and growing concern in a region where many rural women have been left out with no other option than to use the ‘open outdoors’ as their only toilets.

Western style bathrooms with baths and toilets in rural India are considered by most to be a complete luxury. The idea of bringing a toilet into the home though has come with a history of resistance by those who have a justified worry about proper home sanitation.

Lack of toilet facilities is not only a rural problem. More than two dozen urban women in the central India city of Nagpur recently staged an ‘Occupy men’s toilets’ protest demanding that they get their own fair share of toilets to use. They’re now calling for more ‘clean and usable’ private toilets for women who live in urban India.

It may seem obvious, but the persistent question is: why are bathroom facilities such a problem in India?

The answer comes swiftly from advocates. It’s because private toilets most often don’t exist at all for those who are living at the very lowest level of Indian society. Walking out onto open land with what can sometimes add up to long distances to relieve themselves, women living in rural regions are often forced to look far outside the home for any kind of available privacy during the day or night.

The trek to relieve oneself is not a simple act. It’s not centered around safety or sanitation alone. It can also cause a women or girl to face snakes, spiders and other animals, especially at night. It can also provide the perfect opportunity for a physical assault or in the worst case, rape, where a nighttime search for privacy can cause a woman to face intensified danger.

Lack of running water outside is also a challenge contributing to a woman’s inability to wash her hands. This can compromise a woman’s health, and the health of her children, as lack of sanitation can come with a likelihood of exposure to numerous fecal-borne diseases causing dysentery.

“Open defecation is one of the major causes of disease anywhere in the world. Faeces provides the perfect breeding ground for a wide variety of parasites and flies, which invariably settle on hands, eyes and food, all obvious vectors for the transmission of disease. As the same areas are used daily, regular contact with parasites makes the transmission of disease from ground to human inevitable,” says the United Nations Development report by the U.K. based charity called Whenever the Need.

A Rebel Bride Demands a Toilet

20-year-old newlywed Anita Bai Narre lives in Central India, in the Madhya Pradesh region. Her home is in the small agricultural village of Jheetudhana, approximately 180km (approximately 112 Miles) from the region’s capital city of Bhopal.

“I will not return until he builds me a toilet!” said Anita the day after she married her new husband Shivram Narre. “I told him to construct a toilet immediately,” Anita recently shared during a one-on-one interview with WNN – Women News Network. “Otherwise it would not be possible for me to stay in the house,” she continued.

“It was a real shock for me,” shared Anita’s husband Shivram. “I never thought that a woman could do this [leave] on the first night of her marriage,” he added.

Constructing the toilet in only one week Shivram used all his savings as he worked non-stop to build his wife an private house bathroom. Along with Shivram’s funding, came financial support from the local village panchayat (village council) in  Jheetudhana.

Now Anita Narre has become a household name in India. Her grit and commitment to getting an her own toilet has brought high demands for toilets throughout the region. Known as India’s ‘tribal belt,’ Anita’s efforts have now made Jheetudhana village one of the ‘open-defecation free zones’ in India.

“Every woman has a right to live a dignified life and they should fight for it!” says Anita.

As the oldest in the family, with one brother and six sisters, Anita had parents who were both school teachers. As a young girl her family was very lucky. They had an indoor toilet. So when Anita married Shivram she refused to do what most other wives in rural India are forced to do everyday, go outside and search for a safe and private place when nature calls.

“Women in India want toilets and not mobile [temporary toilet facilities]. But it is difficult for men to understand…,”  Anita outlined. The gender divide between men and women on the issue has been an uphill climb.

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