IGNORED IN POLICY, IGNORED IN PRACTICE – Issue of Gender and Sanitation in Indian Cities
The need for better sanitation policies in Indian cities in known to all, further the need to address the differential requirements of women vis a vis sanitation has been researched effectively, yet on both these grounds our cities are lagging behind. Women have additional needs when it comes to provisions of sanitation. They need well located, clean, lighted and safe toilet complexes which caters to their menstruation and pregnancy needs as well as leave no room for gender-based crimes to perpetrate.
Sounds quite simple, quite apparent, yet absent from sanitation policies in the country.
Policy makers, for reasons best known to them, gloss over the differential needs of women while formulating sanitation policies. Be it the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan or the quite well known, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, both have failed to incorporate differential provisions for women while trying to make Indian cities cleaner and OD free. Women are recognised as vulnerable groups in Urban India whose needs should be met, but where are these needs acknowledged? Where are the provisions that seeks to provide a framework to fulfil these needs? Some serious gaps are left unfilled by the sanitation policies in the country. These policies are framed with an understanding that OD leads to gender-based crimes and therefore creation of toilets for women will solve these problems. However, the problems faced by women are not limited to OD. This one size fits all approach, does not work on ground.
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The Need for Female Friendly Sanitation Policies
There is a plethora of studies and researches that document the problems faced by women when it comes to sanitation needs. This range from common knowledge practices such as girls dropping out of school as they are unable to maintain their menses in the absence of adequate toilet facilities. Another reality of women is the fact that many of them have to face harassment when they go out to defecate in the open. In a study conducted by Sharma et al (2015) in the slums of Delhi, women reported that they faced harassment while walking to and from the community toilet complexes. The low walls of the cubicles and their close presence to the men’s washrooms led to frequent peeping into the women’s cubicles. The toilets are often created on barren lands or behind settlements which increased the fear amongst women, they were afraid that in times of need nobody would be able to hear their cries for help. The lack of female attendants in the CTC furthered the distrust of women in these toilets. It resulted in women opting to go for open defecation. In a study conducted by the Greater Warangal Municipal Corporation in the city of Warangal, showed that women were reluctant to use public toilets because of multiple reasons such as : presence of too many men near the entrance, toilets having male attendees and not female attendees, no availability of running water and soap, unsuitable location of the toilet complex among others. A 2011 study funded by WaterAid and DFID funded Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity cited the woe of urban women and girls who reported that even girls under 10 were raped while going to use the public toilet. Lewd remarks being hurled at them, boys staring and lewd physical gestures are a common occurrence. As mentioned before, these problems are documented quite well by various researchers and agencies, what is important for us to understand is that the mere creation of toilet is not enough, some thought and concerted effort needs to be put in, so that women actually use these toilets. The location of the toilet complex, the space provided for bathing, cleaning, changing, internal features such as lighting or cleanliness, entry and exit from the complex, presence of female staff etc are features which affects the decision of women to actually use the toilet complexes. It is widely recognised that Sanitation and allied activities do not lead to gender-based crimes or gender-based vulnerabilities but the absence or unthoughtful presence of these can add to their problems, forcing them to seek, perceivably safe yet damaging options in the short run.
First, the needs of the women must be reflected in the policies made to improve sanitation in the cities. No city, in the world can hope to achieve the gold standards of sanitation by leaving the womenfolk behind. The second step will follow this political will to provide for women. it will require a thorough assessment of what women need through surveys and creation of a data base. This step is infect encouraged by UNICEF. The organisation calls for a ‘Desk Review’ which basically includes assessing the needs of women with respect to sanitation. Such a survey should include concerns like their age, place and nature of work, safety concerns, community relationships and so on.
The third step would include creation of a prudent framework. For instance, constructing toilet complexes in a such a way that limits the interaction between men and women at the site. For example, there can be some distance between the complexes for the two genders, or the entry of the two could be at different places, the walls could be higher, female caretakers should be present and so on.
The following steps would involve implementation of the framework and due monitoring on part of the authorities. One of the most successful monitoring and evaluation schemes is the Swachh Sarvekshan. It is hoped that including a parameter such as assessing how female friendly the toilets are or if the number of women using the toilet complex in a municipality has increased can go a long way in making the whole community including authority figures and common public more thoughtful towards the needs of the ladies.
Our goal here was to simply show that a female friendly sanitation policy must be and can be made with some amount of targeted effort and lots of political will. In the end it is important to note that, the construction of more toilets in lieu of the existing policies is a welcoming step, however, the job does not end with mindless creation. It extends to ensuring that the toilets are usable by every person in the society and therefore the ignored needs of women come to the fore. Secondly, a policy which identifies women as primary targets can also suffer from problems but an effort in this direction is the need of the hour.
Sanitation needs of women when met will act as a solution for many things at once. It will resolve the health problems that arise due to unsanitary living conditions as well as create a safer society for women of all ages. The problems they face are linked in multiple ways. The solution of all these multifaceted problems lies in women centric, women friendly policies, which have so far been non-existent in India.
Author Bio: Milan is a student of Urban Policy and Governance in TISS. Previously, she studied Political Science from the University of Delhi. She is keen in looking at governance issues in the realm of Indian Urbanisation. She is also an avid reader of all things literary and historic.
- Female Friendly Public and Community Toilets: A Guide for Planners and Decision Makers, UNICEF
- Gender Responsive Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: Key Elements for Effective WASH Programming, UNICEF
- Y.M. Reddy, V.S. Chary & R. Srividya, 2017, Why do Women in India Not Use Public Toilets? Patterns and Determinants of Usage by Women in Warangal City.
- Swachh Bharat Mission, Urban, 2014.
- Susan.E.Chaplan, 2017, Gender, Urban Sanitation Inequalities and Everyday Lives, Centre For policy Research.