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June 11, 2014 at 6:15 AM

Install more toilets in India to end sexual violence against women

Some things should never be taken for granted. Clean toilets is one of them.

I never gave much thought to loos as a symbol of dignity and privacy, even though UNICEF has launched numerous efforts such as the #Toilets4All campaign to explain how a lack of toilets around the world endangers public health by causing intestinal worms and diarrhea.

Two weeks ago, it took reports of a gang-rape and lynching of two teenage sisters in an Indian village for many to understand how a shortage of toilets also puts some women at higher risk of sexual violence. Like so many others, the girls had walked together into an open field to relieve themselves. With half of India’s population lacking a private toilet, public defecation is common. So is the likelihood that girls and women will be abused walking to and from these sites, according to a May 30 BBC report.

On Monday, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast a memorable story about efforts to bring toilets to more Indian families. Correspondent Julie McCarthy highlighted the work of social activist Bindeshwar Pathak and his organization, Sulhabh International, which has built more than 1 million toilets throughout the populous country over the last four decades. The Associated Press reports the country still needs 120 million more latrines. Here’s an excerpted quote from Vijay Laxmi, 35, whose village has experienced a cultural shift:

“There has been a huge change in our lives. Before, the men would follow us, wait for us to sit in the field and watch. Now, thanks to Mr. Pathak, we have a lavatory at home… We don’t need to step out, and we feel better. Our dignity which is an ornament for us — is now safe.”

McCarthy’s report also mentioned a project by the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to reinvent the toilet for developing countries. Cal Tech won the foundation’s challenge in 2012. Efforts are underway to test the school’s prototype in India.

Here’s how it works:

What now? India’s new president should keep his promise to “build toilets first, temples later.”


Comments | Topics: clean toilets, gates foundation, India