The Problem of Female Sanitation

Here is to strong women, may we be them, may we know them, may we raise them. Women are very powerful. Given the right education, employment, right to make their decisions and good health, they can be an invincible part of an equal and just society.

A recent survey showed that 2.5 billion people or 40% of the global population lack access to basic sanitation. Sanitation is broadly defined to include, besides toilets, management of human excreta, waste disposal and drainage, lack of which causes a substantial burden, especially on women, girls, children and poor people.  Women and girls are the most affected by lack of access to sanitation facilities and safe water, as they have greater need for privacy during defecation and bathing compared to men. Absence of sanitation makes females vulnerable and exposes them to the risk of fecal-orally transmitted diseases, uro-genital tract infections, urinary incontinence and chronic constipation. Females avoid being seen while defecating in the day light and wait till dark to use the open space for defecation, which may force them to eat less, resulting in malnutrition. Inadequate sanitation access leads to psychosocial stress, harassment and sexual violence, and increased work from water fetching, care-giving burdens and carrying out post defecation needs of old and ailing family members. Provision of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities is thought to mitigate these adverse impacts, making their lives safer, easier and healthier. Poor sanitation leads to water-borne diseases and spread of bacterial, viral and parasitic infections including diarrhea, cholera, polio and hookworm. Children, including young girls, under 5 are affected the most as diarrhoea is the second biggest killer of children worldwide and child mortality claims 6, 00,000 under-5 lives every year.

Poor menstrual hygiene is damaging to a woman’s health, exposing her to infections, potential infertility, and bares the risk of early death. For many women living in developing countries, the natural part of her monthly cycle can be the most dreaded time. Lack of access to sanitary products results in fewer girls going to school, fewer social interactions, and fewer job opportunities and takes a toll on their mental and physical health. Without entering into the issue of cultural superstitions, myths and poor knowledge about the use of sanitary products can lead to poor menstrual hygiene. Therefore, any efforts in the area of improving access to menstrual hygiene products needs to be accompanied by education of individuals and communities. It is observed that women who have improved sanitation facilities close to home and work enjoy better health and are able to work more productively. When their families are healthier, women and girls also spend less time caring for sick family members. These women are seen making efforts for access to safe water and adequate sanitation. As they continue to involve themselves directly in the technical operations and management of water and sanitation, they achieve high level of training and expertise and become skilled workers. Improved water and sanitation for women are the first steps to empowering women in developing countries. There are few organisations like Sulabh with the expertise necessary to build low-cost, environmentally sound and user-friendly toilets.

 The concept of sanitation was earlier limited to disposal of human excreta by oess pools, open ditches, pit latrines, bucket system, etc. Today, it connotes a compre¬hensive concept, which includes liquid and solid waste disposal, food hygiene, and personal domestic as well as environmental hygiene.  Village Sanitary Complex for Women is an important com¬ponent of the government schemes. These complexes can be set up in a place in the village acceptable to and accessible to women. The maintenance of such complexes is very essential for which Gram Panchayat should own the responsibility or make alternative arrangements at the village level. Children are more receptive to new ideas and school is an appropriate institution for changing their behavior, mindset and habits of open defecation to the use of lavatory through motivation and education. The experience gained by children through use of toilets in school and sanitation education imparted by teachers would reach home and influence parents to adopt good sanitary habits.

To meet the ambitious targets of the Indian government’s Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen, the rural clean India mission – plans to eliminate open defecation by 2019. SBM (G) is time-bound with a stronger results orientation, targeting the monitoring of both outputs (access to sanitation) and outcomes (usage). There is also a stronger focus on behavior change interventions and states have been accorded greater flexibility to adopt their own delivery mechanisms.  

The World Bank has provided India with a US $1.5 billion loan and embarked on a technical assistance to support the strengthening of SBM-G program delivery institutions at the national level, and in select states in planning, implementing and monitoring of the program. Some steps taken by the government are-

•Providing technical support to selected districts to demonstrate that sanitation can be delivered at the scale of a district and in a sustainable manner, and to develop district-wide approaches that are tailored to a particular state.

•Supporting the strengthening of state governments’ institutional capacity to roll out the successful models to other districts, eventually covering the entire state.

•Increasing political will and administrative commitment by identifying and creating local sanitation champions at the district level.

•Ensuring government housing and planning where connection of clean water and sanitation are mandatory.

•Establishing multiple public toilets.

•Increasing awareness of different diseases and sanitation problems through public advertisements, hoardings and short films.

The government policies have increasingly emphasized ‘women’ inclusion in sanitation programs. A few countries in Africa prescribe a minimum percentage of women participation in sanitation interventions and related decision making from the ministerial level to village levels. The Indian government tried addressing the gender inequality in its country wide sanitation programs—Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign—NBA) and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. But the problem is that Indian women never have a say in the sanitation issues. Even when the NGOs approached households to construct latrines (under TSC, where NGOs did the initial spending and constructed the latrines), females would direct the NGO staff to speak to their husband or guardians and explain them the program and get their approval.

But times are definitely changing and there is a dawn of awareness amongst the women of India like many other issues that existed earlier the women of India will take the sanitation problem in their stride and win over it. So the slogan “BETI BACHAO, BETI PADHAO” goes in full swing as awareness is the key to success.

By Ankit Tibrewal, Founder, Startup Angel


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