India has an actual campaign called “No toilet, no bride.” This post is picking up from my last about sanitation and the importance of toilets in a country where more people have access to a cell phone than a public toilet. A toilet (especially a bathroom) has become a reflection of social standing in India and can make or break a potential marriage.
I don’t know how I missed this article in the New York Times a few months ago, but it captured the situation perfectly. The campaign was started four years ago in the northern state of Haryana with the slogan “I won’t allow my daughter to marry into a home without toilets.” It quotes one prospective bride stating “It’s a matter of pride… Why should I have to go to the fields?” India has one of the world’s fastest growing economies and who can blame an Indian woman for wanting a bathroom?
Above and beyond the convenience a toilet can bring, it is more importantly a health issue. A recent World Bank study puts the cost to India of not having adequate sanitation facilities at nearly $54 billion annually. The study says premature deaths, treatment for the sick, and loss of productivity and revenue from tourism were the main factors behind the significant economic loss. And for women in particular, it’s not just inconvenient or threat to hygiene but also potentially dangerous. Looking for relief in a dark corner or field brings risk of rape.
Then there is the effect of toilets on school attendance. There are many factors impacting girls education, from a preference to educate only boys to distance to not having sanitary napkins. Toilets are one factor that can help keep girls in school. A report prepared by an Indian NGO found a link between providing separate toilets for girls in schools and girls’ dropout rates. Only 4 in 10 government schools have functioning toilets for girls, and this strongly influences the girls’ ability to attend school.
I hope both men and women gain access to and learn more about improved sanitation, and teach their children. I remember being at the Taj Mahal and seeing my colleague’s shocked reaction at an Indian mother letting her toddler urinate on the marble floor outside the Taj. I have to admit I thought it reflected poorly on India to have a citizen do this at the country’s most famous attraction and symbol. But then again who wants to see a port-a-potty sitting next to the Taj Majal?