Providing Sanitation Goes Beyond Improving Hygiene

Everyone in our team shares the same goal for working on the undoubtedly exotic topic of sanitation and hygiene – providing a useful and affordable home toilet for people for whom the simple act of going to the toilet means overcoming obstacles in dimensions unimaginable to us. We know a home toilet alone will not solve these problems. But it’s about at least having the choice – now, when nature calls and you just have to use a toilet, going out to the fields is often the only choice women have. Our aim at x-runner is to provide an additional alternative to choose from.

Today Jessica will talk about what turned out to become clearly her driving motivation during her trips to the Delhi slums. 

Last Friday I had the chance to meet a wonderful group of 25 women from the Sangam Vihar community at the school of the Women Work and Health Initiative where they attend daily lessons in English, script, dancing, crafts, and mathematics. I began with my usual interview regarding sanitation in their community. One of these questions asks what the most severe issues are with open defecation. The answer was what I had already heard so many times before: “Men”.

When we talk about the need for sanitation there is always the same common understanding that not having a toilet is dangerous for your health and the health of your community. It seems obvious, right?

Yet there are issues regarding open defecation that are more important to women than their health – dignity and safety.  Rape is a danger that women have to live with on a daily basis when going out to the field to defecate. They are easy victims: exposed, stripped of their privacy, and physically distanced from their homes and families. The rapists can be strangers, but just as well family, and community members  – as I was told, usually drunk and often in groups. During my interviews, there is always more than one story of rape and physical harassment and worse, there is always a recent story.

A field for open defecation

Delhi is the rape capital of India – and so far the city has not managed to decrease the numbers, quite the opposite. The flood of news is endless: news of gang rapes, rapes of toddlers, rapes of women working at night, rapes of women riding cabs alone or driving alone in a car, rapes of business women who just left their office to go home. According to Delhi Police every 18 hours a rape occurs in the capital, but only every 70th case will be reported because women fear to lose their honor.

What astonished me most, however, was that the women I interviewed talked about rape in the same manner they would complain about other daily problems such as flooded sewers and irregular water supply. Their eyes, however, show the lasting shock from past incidents and the constant fear of future uncertainty.

The stories usually end with a shoulder shrug. I asked “Would you report the rape?”

“Just to be another number in statistics? – that’s not worth it. It’s not even worth shedding tears when there is nothing you can do about it.“

Then I ask: “What would a toilet mean to you and your family?” – and they answer: “Dignity”.

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