The World

For Better Sanitation, India Targets Rural Women

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"No toilet, no bride." That's the message of a sanitation campaign in one Indian state that has targeted women and appears to be spurring a big rush in toilet installations. The government hopes to achieve sanitation for all by 2012.

Wall poster urging families not to marry their daughter into a household without a toiletBALLABGARH, India (Womensenews)--Roopa Rani was a dutiful bride. After marriage, she complied with the custom of waking up at the crack of dawn and accompanying her mother-in-law and sister-in-law to squat in the fields before the men awoke.

For the rest of the day, no matter how uncomfortable it made them, she and the rest of the women would hold on, no matter how strong the pressure in their bladder and bowels. Relief came only after dark.

Since their houses had no toilets, women and girls--like the men and boys--used nearby fields to relieve themselves. But they could only go at daybreak or after dark, as modesty forbad them from doing so during the daytime, when men could see them. The men were under no such constraint.

But that was two decades ago. Many things have changed since then in Sunper village of Ballabgarh block in the northern state of Haryana.

Today, Rani is determined that her daughter will not face the same ordeal.

"When I got married, there was no toilet in my in-laws' house in my village. This was not unusual because even before marriage, my mother and I used the fields for defecation. But I know better now and I'm not going to let my daughter continue to use the fields. Unless the family that seeks her hand in marriage has a toilet, there will be no marriage," Rani said.

Rani is joining other women in demanding toilets as a condition for marriage as part of a campaign called "no toilet, no bride." The campaign was launched four years ago via a sanitation push by the federal Ministry of Rural Development, aimed at eradicating the practice of defecating in the open.

Past Sanitation Effort Stymied

In the past, the sanitation effort had been stymied by villagers who lined up for highly subsidized Indian squat toilets--keyhole-shaped bowls that are placed on the ground or elevated platforms, with or without surrounding walls--only to use them as storage containers; they continued to defecate in the open.

State officials partnered with local leaders in a concerted promotional campaign that included radio jingles and posters with mothers saying: "I won't marry my daughter into a household which doesn't have a toilet."

"We have come a long way since the time when villagers used the toilets for storage purposes. The people have understood that their health is in their own hands literally. If they use toilets instead of using open fields, they are preventing illness that could be fatal for their children," said Puran Singh Yadav, state project coordinator of the rural development department's sanitation campaign.

Phulo Devi, 55, a resident of Badhana village in Sonipat district, in the eastern part of the state, says the campaign inspired her to not just ensure her daughter's husband had a toilet, but she also persuaded her husband to install one in their own house.

"I had no choice but to defecate in the open. But with the government giving us the opportunity to build our own toilet, how could I let it go?" she said.

Her daughter Shamli says no educated young woman wants to marry into a house that has no toilet. "I am educated and know the linkages between lack of hygiene and sanitation and diseases like diarrhea, typhoid, jaundice and malaria. What is the point of being educated if I ignore this when I get married?" she said.

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