That Toilet is a basic need is something we do not realise since all our homes have not one, but many toilets. But, importance of toilets was brought home to me when I started Helper4U. When we rent out our first office space, we were on a shoestring budget, and thus had a space constraint. To tide over this, we encouraged girls among our staff to work from home if possible. But, we were amazed to find that they all preferred working from office rather than from home, even if it meant they could earn more and could also work flexi-time. This was quite surprising because as working women most of us would jump at the opportunity to work flexi-time, not travel, spend more time at home, and still earn more.
Having a Toilet: A luxury for some
On doing some simple research it turned out that the simple reason for this was the absence of a toilet at their homes. All these girls were from slums nearby. They had to use a communal toilet, which was always very dirty, had no water supply most of the times. Even if all else was well, they had to wait in a queue to use it. That was the first time we realised the impact a toilet can have on lives of people. Hence we say: Toilet Ek Jaroorat (Toilet is a basic need)
For millions of women, therefore, having a toilet means becoming free: A toilet can be Freedom For Her from so many things. Even for men from slums it is a luxury. Many drivers come early to work so that they can use the cleaner, and more accessible toilets in the buildings of their employers. This is in stark contrast to the dirty ones in their slums. We, the more blessed ones (with at least one toilet at home) cannot even imagine how not having a toilet can impact the whole life of people, right from what they eat, when they eat and how they ”go”.
This is not the situation in India alone
Globally, millions still suffer the fear and indignity of relieving themselves in the open or in unsafe or unhygienic conditions – a situation which is most dangerous for girls and women. For more than 1.1 billion women and girls globally, a lack of toilets results in an increased risk of poor health, limited education, harassment and even attack. WaterAid’s third annual report reveals that women and girls bear the brunt of the Global Sanitation Crisis. Not having access to a toilet puts girls at risk of harassment and attack when finding somewhere to relieve themselves or manage menstruation. Lack of a decent toilet at schools is also a reason for many girls to miss or drop out of school.
How important toilets are for girls can be also gauged from the happy faces of these females posing next to a toilet. Would any of us ever think of posing next to a toilet, leave alone smiling away too?
Some interesting facts about toilets
- India tops the list for the longest line for the toilet. While there has been immense progress in improving access to sanitation through the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission, there are still more than 355 million women and girls in India waiting for access to basic sanitation. If they make a line, it would would stretch around the earth more than four times.
- Around 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrhea related diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That’s almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.
- Between 2000 and 2015, people defecating in the open dropped from 1.2 billion globally. (20% of the global population) to 892 million (12%). Still enough waste is produced in the open to fill seven bathtubs every second.
This World Toilet Day, on November 19, governments are pledging to do their bit. But, how can we homeowners support this basic human right?
One simple suggestion for all home owners
Allow your domestic Helpers to use your toilets if they need to go. Rather than send them to the road or bushes nearby, allow them to use your toilets. After all, once flushed, the waste goes through the same process, irrespective of who generated it. Similarly, if someone defecates in the open. And in many of our homes, they are the ones cleaning it. And who knows, they may already be using it in your absence. So, allow them to use it, and feel the joy of giving.
We are all prone to diseases, again, irrespective of who generated it, and where. So prevent it the most you can. A simple gesture at your end will help keep the surroundings in our cities clean.
Having a toilet is a human rights issue. Everyone has a right to health and dignity. Let us pledge to contribute to it the best we can.