Shaina NC: Better toilets for girls

In the third of her seven-part series on sanitation in Mumbai, the author talks about Sanitation Related Psycho-Social Stress 

Working in the public sphere, I meet the most inspiring people. One such person is Anu Gond, a 13-year-old girl living in the Ganesh Deval Nagar slum of Bhayandar. Currently, in the 8th standard in an English medium school, her rented home is a small tin cube where she lives with her father, brother, sister-in-law, nephew and uncle. Anu wants to be a doctor.

Each morning when there is enough light in the sky, Anu makes her way to the common toilets situated 10 minutes from her ‘home’. The women’s toilet is filthy, stinky and in poor condition, dimly lit with bad sanitation and no door.

“We pay Rs. 30 per month as ‘rent’ to the lady who cleans the toilets but she doesn’t clean it regularly. I don’t go to the toilet after dark because I am scared of going alone,” says this brave girl, who has trained herself at this young age to go to the toilet only in daylight.

Shaina NCShaina NC

The primary concern is that as young girls like Anu transition from childhood to adolenscene there are much larger implications of not having access to proper sanitation facilities, which will not only affect her heath dramatically but also her growth ansd development. The lack of access to proper saniatiaon facilities which is one of the most basic human need is a shocking reality that young girls like Anu have to deal with across Mumbai. This is partly because they do not know any better but mostly because they do not have a choice and have to accept the amenities that are available.

Shame and fear are the two most common feelings girls accessing public toilets battle with daily. Bad access paths to community toilets where strange boys and men leer at them, having to walk to community toilets with water cans in hand, waiting in long queues, putting up with filthy toilets, fighting with other women for a toilet, standing next to the men’s line at the toilet, and in many cases having to resort to open-defecation are just some of the reasons for their trauma.

Some lucky girls that attend school or work have trained themselves to wait and use the toilets available at their education institutions or workplaces. This is, however, no solution!

Research suggests that women living in the slums of Mumbai are often traumatised due to the lack of access to proper toilets either at home or in their community. I am shocked, and you will be too by this thought. Would I want my teenage daughter to grow up in such deplorable conditions? The thought that I am living in the very city where millions of girls her age have no access to toilets and basic sanitation is both shocking and saddening.

According to the UNICEF women at high risk of abuse and harassment without access to sanitation facilities. The concern in India, and more particularly in Mumbai is that a significant number of girls do not know how to identify harassment and either laugh it off or giggle when discussing these problems. Sanitation is still a taboo concept in India and so most girls and for that matter even men are not comfortable discussing issues that are related to sanitation. The WHO reports that lack of adequate sanitation is costing India as much as $54 billion.

This figure does not account for the psychological damage that lack of sanitation causes. Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist Dr. Anjali Chhabria says, “There is a term called Sanitation Related Psycho-Social Stress (SRPS) which means that people go through stress related to hygiene and sanitation. This results in girls and women feeling shame, embarrassment and indignity for their basic biological needs.”

The need is to provide better access to sanitation to our citizens, especially our women. Pravin Nikam of the Right to Pee Campaign has been championing the basic rights of girls for a decent toilet since 2010 says, “The number of girls staying out of home for extended hours and regularly travelling long distances, whether for work or education, has increased exponentially – informal sector female workers are out for an average of 16 hours in a day.”

While there is increased stress on education programs and their increased need to bring about change in India there is also a very dire need to provide better sanitation for girls like Anu who is going through very important physical and emotional changes in her being right now. If we cannot help her get access to better sanitation soon, she might not be able to realise her dream of becoming a doctor. And then we would have failed our exam.

Write to me at shainancnow@gmail.com or tweet @shainaNC with solutions. Let’s start a movement today!

Read PART ONE and PART TWO

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