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November 27, 2012

Toilets for women must be safe, close by

New Delhi: While activists across the country have launched an initiative to curb open defecation and urination which, according to World Health Organisation, is the riskiest sanitation practice, women in the national capital still lack access to public toilets. 
    “Giving people access to toilets is not rocket science and we can find a solution. But the authorities lack will,” Anita Bharghav of Let’s Do It Delhi said. Her agency had been working on sanitation in Punjabi Bagh slums with Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board for over two years. 

    A big problem with public toilets, Bhargav said, is the contract between land owning agencies and those in charge of maintaining them. “Land-owning authorities hand over maintenance of public toilets to NGOs. Some give NGOs the right to charge Re 1 or Rs 2 for use of the toilets. But it’s not economically viable to have too many subcontracts,” she said. Her agency is working to increase capacity, build new toilets 
and create better contracts with a replicable model. “Other people can borrow our plans and even improve them if they like,” she said. 
    Another problem is lack of sufficient public toilets for both men and women. A 2012 study on drinking water and sanitation by the WHO and UNICEF reveals that 626 million people in India do not have a closed toilet. It’s the world’s highest number, far ahead of Indonesia, which ranks second at just 63 million. 
    But apart from building more public toilets, there is an urgent need to change the mindset of its intended users. “In our culture, nobody thinks of stopping men from doing anything while women have boundaries. For women, talking openly about basic bodily needs like urinating or defecating is taboo,” Rahul Gaekwad of Right To Pee, a Mumbai-based cam
paign with 35 participating NGOs, said. 
    He says safety, too, is an area of concern for women when they visit public toilets as many are in remote areas, have less light or male attendants. “We want toilets every 
two or three kilometres, women attendants, facilities like sanitary napkins and trash cans,” he said. Though the campaign focusses onwomen, Gaekwad said it will help curb public urination because “who will use the road if there is a facility nearby?” 
    In Bangalore, several initiatives have been taken up to change public behaviour. A street art campaign, The Pee Project, puts up lithographic posters of urinals on city walls to make men think twice before urinating on them. They are not alone. The Ugly Indians, an anonymous group of citizens of Bangalore, works on the motto – k a a m c h a l u , m o o h b a n d h. They have beautified a footpath, which previously served as a garbage dump and local urinal, by clearing obstacles to pedestrians, cleaning, painting walls, adding plants and flowers and maintaining it with the rationale that men will not dirty a clean footpath that people actually use. 

    A new scheme introduced earlier this month in 34 villages in Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district aims to change public behaviour through public humiliation. Volunteers with drums and whistles literally blow the whistle on persons they see urinating or defecating in public. Those caught again in the act are liable to be fined. 

Source: TOI (pg 3, 25 Nov 2012) 

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