India is as equally known for it’s beauty, rich culture, and spiritual wisdom as it is for it’s poor public sanitation. While this might not be great for their tourism industry, it is devastating for their female population.
It is estimated that open defecation is practiced by close to half of the population. The reasons include culture, lack of access to clean toilets, and the need for education.
Not having access to clean and safe restrooms at the very least causes stress and shame to women while caring for themselves during menstruation, or just trying to find a place to “go.” The water pollution from open defecation also leads to childbirth-related infections that can be deadly for women and children. In rural regions and city slums, female students commonly drop out of school because they have no access to restrooms.
Also concerning is the increased vulnerability that women endure while searching for a place, especially at night, to relieve themselves. A much-publicized case happened in 2014, when two young girls, ages 14 & 15 were found raped and hung after doing just that. Most of these crimes do not get press and yet it’s all too common. The National Crime Records Bureau, New Delhi shows that crime against women are on the rise in India with rape increasing 9% from 2013 to 2014. 2015 statistics have yet to be released.
Awareness of this issue is spreading and in 2014 the Clean India Campaign was started with the hopes of cleaning up India’s slums and public spaces — including installing clean toilets — by Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday in 2019. While the campaign’s goals are not easily measurable, they are very necessary. And if you are a woman in India it has added significance.
Of course, a change in attitude towards women’s worth would go a long way. And there are many fighting for this cause and putting in the time it takes to create major and lasting change. In the meantime, increasing efforts to provide safe, clean and plentiful restrooms is a big step towards securing women’s health, safety and dignity.
Let’s hope India celebrates Gandhi’s 150th birthday with less violence towards and a much healthier atmosphere for their beloved women and girls.