Make Toilets Safe Again!

17 November 2017




This week is World Toilet Day, which acknowledges the importance of provision and access to sanitation. However, the essential necessity has created avenues of violence, rape cases and installed fear into the lives of many women and girls.


World Health Organisation (WHO)  states that 68% of the world’s population (5.0 billion people) use at least a basic sanitation service, yet 2.3 billion people still do not have basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines. Therefore, 892 million still defecate in the open, such as in street gutters, behind bushes or into open bodies of water. This illustrates a significant issue of inadequate provision of basic sanitation and poorly managed sanitation services within communities. So how does gender violence correlate with inadequate sanitation?


How Dangerous Are Toilets?

It is necessary to establish what kind of toilets we are discussing, many rape cases have resulted from open defecation; toileting in fields, roadsides or by train tracks. Today open defecation is on the decline worldwide, but nearly 950 million people still routinely practice it. Some 569 million of them live in India.  The gruesome rape and hanging of two teenage girls in 2014 in the populous Uttar Pradesh state again proves how women have become the biggest victims of India’s sanitation crisis. Also BBC report 400 women would have “escaped” rape last year if they had toilets in their homes, demonstrating the substantial concern of inadequate toilets and how dangerous it has become towards girls and women.



How do we Make Toilets Safe?

Essentially, what needs to be taken into account is the need to acknowledge these issues and subsequently implement a special emphasis on women. This could be done by building toilets in locations where women tend to work and live, or areas of engagement, as a study revealed only half as many women as men used the toilets because of their distance from home. The provision of toilets removes the element of fear. It also removes the opportunity for men to take advantage and viciously attack women. Also, toilets eliminate the use of open defecation, which combats other issues of diseases and infections.

Unintended consequences?

Despite an increase in the provision of toilets, there is a possibility of people not using them. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat (“Clean India”) campaign was launched in 2014, but it has had problems. There was a sheer lack of information passed onto the community -no one was informed of the new locations of these toilets. Therefore, it is important to take note of errors such as the failure in communication between potential beneficiaries and the state.

Secondly, it is important to consider the conflict between tradition and community norms. Some people do not want to change: when ingrained cultural norms and traditional practices have consisted throughout generations, it is extremely difficult to employ new ways of living and adopting new social practices in some parts of society. Sue Coates, chief of Wash (water, sanitation, and hygiene) at Unicef says just building toilets is not going to solve the problem because open defecation is a practice acquired from the time you learn how to walk. When you grow up in an environment where everyone does it, even if later in life you have access to proper sanitation, you will revert back to it, so it’s necessary to consider how should tradition be tackled.

Poverty is one of the most serious outcomes of inadequate sanitation. It has led to numerous negative multiplier effects from an increase in sickness and disease, to a growth in dropout rates in both employment and education, which causes a reduction in human capital and a decrease in the future prospect of many girls and women.


It is evident that a lack of basic sanitation is a substantial issue. Without toilets, dangerous situations have emerged, including an increased risk of disease and infection and a rise in global gender violence. As well as identifying the issue of provision, we also recognize many unintended consequences that may affect girls and women. However, at HART, we join and celebrate with those around the world for World Toilet Day, acknowledging the need of basic sanitation and recognizing the gender violence consequences of a lack of sanitation. We admire the work and efforts transpiring around the world to deliver a better standard of living to those without it.

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