The recent case of the two Dalit girls in Badaun who were gangraped has caused outrage, anger and for the first time raised an unexpected but pressing issue: the lack of toilets.
The two girls had gone out to the fields to defecate when they were grabbed and then gangraped by the men. Nor are they the only women to have faced an assault while going out to relieve themselves in the open. And this isn't just in Uttar Pradesh or in India.
A report in The Guardian in response to Badaun points out that "2.5 billion people live without access to a toilet, forcing women to walk to dark and dangerous places to find the privacy they need – those same dark and dangerous places where men wait to attack them."
The report points out that a "WaterAid study in the slums of Lagos in Nigeria showed that a quarter of women who lacked access to sanitation had first- or second-hand experience of harassment, threats of violence or actual assault linked to their lack of a safe, private toilet in the last year."
This is an especially urgent problem in India where 60 million people don't have a toilet at him. BBC points to a "2011 study funded by WaterAid and DFID-funded Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity, which showed that women living in urban slums of Delhi reported specific incidents of girls under 10 "being raped while on their way to use a public toilet" to researchers."
It is evident that this issue of lack of toilets affects both women's personal hygiene and safety.
Of course, some are unhappy that all this talk about toilets misses the real cause for rapes. One person tweeted saying
But no one is saying that the sole reason for sexual violence is the lack of a loo. It is an undeniable fact, however, that the absence of a safe toilet adds to the vulnerability of women. And there are numbers to show it. As the BBC report points out, "a senior police official in Bihar said some 400 women would have 'escaped' rape last year if they had toilets in their homes."
It's not just safety, but also education that is affected by lack of toilet. PM Modi, in a 'Chai pe Charcha' video conference on 8 March, Women's Day, had said: "We saw dropout rates increased after Class III & IV- we realised that this was because of lack of toilet facilities and we tried to change it."
Modi's "toilets first and temples later" agenda had also made national headlines earlier during his campaign election. Now, according to a Times of India report, "the Centre's sanitation department is preparing a proposal involving over Rs 1.5 lakh crore to tackle open defecation."
The aim is two-fold: try bringing down rape and sexual assault cases; and try to increase the number of girls who attend school.
There is now an attempt, after the Badaun rape case, to construct more toilets so that no girls need to venture out in the dark, risking their lives, to answer nature's call. Sulabh International is now adopting the village and intends to construct toilets in close to 100 houses, according to PTI.