Can access to a toilet prevent rape?

Published: June 24, 2014
Email

Is it unfair that two young girls had to go out in the dark to look for a toilet on that ill-fated night? PHOTO: AFP

The recent spate of rapes in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India has left everyone horrified. Along with the typical reactions from politicians and international agencies that accompany such heinous crimes, the link between lack of access to toilets and increased risk of rape, in particular, has received considerable attention in the national and international media.

While the focus on the need for better sanitation is encouraging, I find it somewhat intriguing because neither the problem nor its consequences are ‘new’. In fact, it is one of the most fundamental requirements for any human being and therefore needs to be a constant priority as opposed to making the headlines only when an untoward incident takes place. I also believe that the relationship between rape and sanitation is far more complex than has been portrayed.

Firstly, it is important to emphasise that access to a toilet in the home does not necessarily equal use. Various government programs and NGO initiatives have failed because people don’t feel a sense of ownership and use the toilet for everything but sanitation. In fact, it is well known that toilets constructed under government schemes often fall into disrepair and are subsequently used as storage spaces. This is because many of these programs have adopted a ‘we know what’s good for you’ approach as opposed to understanding the needs and aspirations of local communities and focusing on those who are disproportionately affected.

For instance, in my experience, women usually champion the cause of sanitation the most because unsurprisingly they are the worst affected by its absence. Rape is one very severe risk that women face when they go out in to fields late at night or early in the morning but they are also confronted with innumerable health issues, teasing and molestation on a daily basis which perhaps don’t get reported as much because women have accepted these challenges as an inextricable part of their lives. Despite this, many sanitation programs focus primarily on the hardware aspects of construction as opposed to the softer issues of appreciating human needs and desires, facilitating the process of behaviour change, ensuring an explicit focus on women and sensitising men to the problems women face because of the absence of a toilet. Sensitisation is critical because decision making, including whether or not to invest in a toilet, is often the prerogative of men.

Secondly, given the technical challenges associated with constructing household-level toilets in space constrained environments like slums, community toilets have an important role to play. However, these toilets are usually poorly maintained and unsafe for women. In fact, many rapes have taken place inside community toilet blocks, including those in schools because they are poorly lit or secluded. Moreover, access to public toilets is often inequitable because of social and cultural norms. For instance, I have seen villages where women who belong to a ‘lower’ caste are not allowed to use the community toilet.

Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, we should not forget that the root cause of this problem is not so much the paucity of toilets but the engrained patriarchal mind-set. The majority of rapes are committed by perpetrators who are known to women and are people they trust implicitly. In fact, a number of crimes against women take place inside the home and are committed by relatives. Additionally, some women are raped because they ‘break’ certain societal rules and hence need to be ‘punished’. Others are raped inside police stations when they go to file a complaint.

Is it unfair that two young girls had to go out in the dark to look for a toilet on that ill-fated night? Absolutely yes. In fact, it is something that should put all of us collectively to shame. However, I would go a step further and ask why the girls shouldn’t have expected to go out at night without worrying about rape or murder? Why do women constantly have to worry about when to step out of their homes?

We need to stop finding convenient reasons like a woman’s clothing or lack of a toilet to explain rape. What we need to tackle are the perverse norms which ensure that girls are given food only after all the male members in the household have been well fed, a society that is tolerant of political leaders who make statements along the lines of ‘boys will be boys’ and a culture that allows men to define the boundaries of right and wrong for women.

Rape doesn’t happen in isolation. It is one terrible outcome of a deep rooted mind-set that manifests in multiple ways in the daily life of a woman. Amidst all the talk of new sanitation campaigns being launched post these inhuman incidents, let us not forget to confront the far more difficult challenge of destroying age-old norms and ensuring that every woman is treated with respect and dignity.

Let us collectively resolve to do our own little bit for this is certainly not India’s problem alone. From villages in Brazil to urban slums in South Africa and cities in Pakistan, women face the same plight. While some incidents receive more media and political attention than others, all are equally important because they involve a precious human life that is scarred or taken away forever.

Urvashi Prasad

Urvashi Prasad

A public health professional with experience in urban slums. A postgraduate from the University of Cambridge, UK and is currently pursuing a masters degree in public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ayesha

    I believe having facilities at home could go a long way in preventing rape since a majority of females wouldn’t be accessible at such a vulnerable moment and place.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Hmmm I would blame the unequal sex ratio for these X related crimes. Stop female infanticide . Better still, reduce population to reduce crimes. Unemployment , poverty , misery , frustration , disillusionment ,nonchalance feed on each other. A reduced family size will solve majority of today’s problems.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    Huh? Many of your posts defy logic and reason. How will reduced family size ensure that the problem of rape is solved? Unequal sex ratio is not the reason behind rapes. Are you saying men who are ‘sex deprived’ commit such crimes? Married men who have a wife at home commit rape too. The reasons behind rape are: Patriarchal mindsets and misogynistic attitudes.Recommend

  • Parvez

    By equating rape with poverty you are looking at only a small part of the picture……but I agree that even fixing this small part is better than doing nothing.Recommend

  • Prashant

    It has been around 70 years since the Independence and we have not been able to provide the basic amenities to our population which is a shame. It is indeed correct that the toilets are important however it has nothing to do with a rape because I have not seen a reliable survey which says that a significant number of women get raped while going out in the night to address the nature’s call.

    Rapists come with a particular mindset which needs to be fought against but it is important to understand that more than the government it is the parents who need to be blamed for these kind of acts for not being able to give the proper upbringing to their children.

    Rape and lack of toilets are two different issues which need to be addressed differently.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    You have raked up a very important topic. Kudos.

    Build Toilets than Temples.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Thats actually so true!

    Delhi, which has a high incidences of violence against women has a very skewed Sex Ratio! Same with many Northern States in India.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    @Anooop:disqus : I would tend to go with @Nandita on this one – correlation is not causation. High incidence of rape and skewed sex ratio have the same root cause, which is the patriarchal mindset – one does not cause the other. However, I also disagree with @Prashant on separating both issues. Increased vulnerability of women is just one issues linked to absence of sanitation facilities at home, but is an important one. The author paints a Dali-esque picture where it is the mindset that sits in this non-existent toilet, and needs to be shifted out for the idea of toilets to be of any use; in reality this mindset shift may require a generation change, and we cannot wait that long. Let’s at least get one thing right by then instead of focusing on nice-sounding phrases like behavioral change, needs and aspirations, and sensitization that cannot deliver measurable results.Recommend

  • Queen

    One of the reasons behind the rising number of rape cases is the objectification of women.Recommend

  • Queen

    One of the reasons behind the rising number of rape cases is the objectification of women.Recommend

  • Doesnt matter

    population has exploded dude. Infrastructure could never keep upRecommend

  • Nandita.

    Sanitation facilities at home would make women less vulnerable- maybe to a certain extent. But these women would still need to step out of their houses for other reasons like going to school, college, work or the market place etc.Women can be attacked by potential rapists while running other errands right? So what do we do in that case? You can build a toilet in every house, but you cant build a school in every house right? Next, We’ll have politicians who will suggest that women be locked up in their houses for their own safety. Solutions like building toilets in every home will not solve the problem because women will step out of their houses for other reasons anyways. The root cause needs to be addressed:there has to be a shift in the patriarchal mindset.Yes, it will take decades to bring about this change but as I see it, changing mindsets is the only permanent solution. Every other solution (including building toilets) is not fool proof. I understand your point that sanitation facilities at home will offer a little bit of protection (it definitely will ) but women can be attacked at other times when out of their houses.So, while I understand where you’re coming from, I also see merit in Prashant’s argument. Recommend

  • Nandita.

    Contd ..I agree with the author when she says that we really need to stop finding convenient reasons and excuses like lack of toilets to explain rape. It’s time to address the real reason behind rape:patriarchal mindsets. It may take decades to bring about a change in mindsets but it is the only solution.
    Recommend

  • cautious

    I don’t think the invention of the toilet saw any impact on the number of rapes in the West .. so maybe toilets isn’t the real issue?Recommend

  • Golnath Agarwal

    You ever get up the nerve to disagree with anything? Do it for once.
    Form your own opinion. Not something you read.Recommend

  • Gul Bahaduullahr Magsi

    Look at all these low life trolls hijacking this blogRecommend

  • Santiago

    Very well written Urvashi ji.Recommend

  • Indian

    This just explains why India is so miserable.Recommend

  • https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8559594100366660134#allposts Supriya Arcot

    Apart from lack of sanitation within the vicinity of home itself ( vulnerable people have to go out to relive themselves ) , the two reasons you mentioned, another reason for such violent activities is lack of opportunities of release of pent up energy ( politely put ). Larger families mean lack of work / education / employment / opps for growth/ frustration / truckloads of time on hand .Remember an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. I am not having any panacea for avoiding rapes ( or violence) totally ,but it surely can be reduced. Give the man a wife / children / a job and he will be busy working hard for it.Men who cant get wives / families/ jobs get frustrated .Hope you see my point now .And btw madam, which other post of mine has defied logic. Pray tell me and I shall be happy to clarify those too.Recommend

  • http://www.waqas-tariq.webs.com Malik Waqas Tariq

    I think it has more to do with patriarchal mind-set, than unavailability of toilets. Take example of my village in Pakistan. About 15 years back only 10% of the houses in my village had this facility but not a single rape case was reported.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    Omg! The explanation is even more ridiculous.
    Are all rapists men without jobs and a family? Teachers at school, uncles, fathers, neighbours etc who belong to well off families and who have perfectly good jobs and wives at home rape young girls. And you will find there are single men with no sex life (and without or with a dream job) who would never illtreat women or indulge in dishonourable activities because they are not misogynists and do not have a patriarchal mindset. It’s the mindset that leads to rape, lets not look for excuses to explain rape.Please understand that a lack of a job does not propel men to rape, a patriarchal mindset does. Even if we ensure that every man in the country has a job and a wife, rapes will still continue. The root cause needs to eradicated: the patriarchal mentality.
    I do not agree with many of your posts. Just one example: your comment on NOTA. ( but thankfully, BlackJack and gp65 responded with sensible comments)
    Recommend

  • Parvez

    Thank you for following me so closely…….possibly you may just learn something good.Recommend

  • https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8559594100366660134#allposts Supriya Arcot

    There are many reasons for this horrendous crime against ( why only women ) humanity. Grinding poverty , lack of toilets, ego , wanting to subjugate some one and teach him / her a lesson , act of frenzy, want for wives ,frustration ,objectifying … Reduction of Population will make the exsiting ( and depleting ) resources ( food / jobs … ) available to the majority and this in turn will reduce misery. Its a long plan but still worth every penny.Recommend

  • Quetta wala

    Hindustan needs to build toilets. For it millions and millions of people
    using the outdoors for toilets. Instead of building third rate aircraft
    carriers mounted on scrapped old rusting battle ships hulls. Plus
    these leaky scrapped Russians submarines that are toxic and keep sinking in the harbors. That are being retro fitted by incompetent
    techs.
    Build toilets first. Then food for the masses.Recommend

  • Quetta wala

    Hindustan needs to build toilets. For it millions and millions of people
    using the outdoors for toilets. Instead of building third rate aircraft
    carriers mounted on scrapped old rusting battle ships hulls. Plus
    these leaky scrapped Russians submarines that are toxic and keep sinking in the harbors. That are being retro fitted by incompetent
    techs.
    Build toilets first. Then food for the masses.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    Madame ji, can you explain why some rich and famous men in western countries rape women? They are not poor, have successful careers , are married and the women they rape have multiple bathrooms and toilets in their houses. How would you explain these rapes? it’s the patriarchal mindset of the rapist that’s responsible, no? It takes a certain mindset to indulge in such violence against women.
    Don’t blame the circumstances in the rapists life ( poverty, frustration over lack of job opportunities etc) for his ill treatment of women.A substantial part of the world’s population lives in miserable conditions but all of them do not turn into rapists.So, what separates rapists from the decent guys? The men who do rape come with a certain mindset.It is that patriarchal mindset that is to blame.
    A man (no matter how poor or how desperate for a spouse ) will NOT rape if he is not patriarchal, he will not rape if he believes in equality and does not consider women chattel. Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    You do know Pakistan’s poverty rate(43%) is double that of India(22%) right?Recommend

  • https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8559594100366660134#allposts Supriya Arcot

    Its a free country. All are allowed to voice their opinions. I am not looking for anyone’s approval for my thoughts. Well … I suppose … To each his own.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    I was doing the same: Just voicing my thoughts.This is a platform where people interact madame.If I dont agree with you, I have every right to say so. You are free to do the same. You asked me for examples of your comments that I didn’t agree with so I gave u an example. Recommend

  • Mustafa

    LOL who are you kidding?India’s poverty rate is the same as Pakistan’s (around 40%), 22% is just the percentage of people living in extreme poverty, India’s actually got more income inequality than Pakistan, but you won’t see it past your jingoistic lenses.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Here is what World Bank website says.

    http://data.worldbank.org/country/india

    22% says WB in 2012. Pakistan has not released its poverty data for the past 8 years, where GDP growth is negligible. This would have added to the poverty number.Recommend

  • Nobody

    I have to disagree on this point. While I’m strongly opposed to objectifying people in general, that alone isn’t the cause of rape. It’s a patriarchal culture coupled with misogyny and a sense of entitlement among men (also no fear of consequences).
    Looking at human history, objectification is a fairly recent phenomena (on a scale as large as today’s I mean) due to media becoming mainstream and global in reach. Think back to ancient times for example, there was no internet or tv or any such entertainment, but women were still raped. Women (and men) have been raped essentially since we were in the caves. Patriarchy is still steadfast in many parts of the world and that is one (of many) major contributing factor to rape still being so prevalent. Objectification is a symptom of that.Recommend

  • http://www.waqas-tariq.webs.com Malik Waqas Tariq

    By patriarchal mind-set i meant the same.
    Population is a reality which cannot be dealt with in few years. So will we let rapes to happen? Moreover, the craze for more children also is a popular thing in conservative people…. I guess the mental attitude has to be changed.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Lets agree with your statement for a second. But, poverty in India is decreasing, while its on the rise in Pakistan.

    UN Millennium Development Goal report clearly says Pakistan is the only country in the Indian Subcontinent to not to achieve its goals.

    According to one WB Report, Pakistan needs to grow at 6% or more to create enough jobs to satisfy the people coming on to the Job market(same for India as well), but Pakistan is growing at half of that.

    India’s future is secure, is Pakistan? If you were a neutral person with a million dollars, would you invest in Pakistan? Or, India?Recommend

  • https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8559594100366660134#allposts Supriya Arcot

    Ashamed of what our minister said Tapas PAUL. – my boys will rape the women of opposition . R has many reasons – the desire to dominate is JUST ONE of them . There is no ONE panacea for R.Recommend

  • Santiago

    Your statements only display a closed minded with no power to think.Recommend

  • https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8559594100366660134#allposts Supriya Arcot

    Think what ? what closed mind ? pray elaborate. I am saying I am ashamed of what he (our MP ) said.He should be immediately relieved of his duties.Recommend

  • Queen

    There were rape cases in the past but the number of such cases have increased in the present when we see women become portrayed as objects on media, signboards, TV shows, and movies. Women, whether they are sisters, daughters, wives, mothers, colleagues, fellow students or in any other field of life need to be respected but when such person, who deserves respect, is portrayed as an object, it creates a negative impact on the society. Providing access to toilets might help the number of cases to decrease in the short-run, but in the long run, efforts are required to change the mindset of the society.Recommend

  • Santiago

    Rape has many reasons is what you say.and you are wrong.Don’t keep harping on the same stuff esp when it is apparent that you cannot defend your line of thinking.Recommend

  • LS

    What is wrong in what she said? Would you care to explain? Just “harping” you are wrong and close minded does not help. You probably don’t even have the context in which she is communicating. R is done for many reasons (just a few of them):
    1) Domination and Subjugation
    2) Hate for a community
    3) LustRecommend

  • Santiago

    Everyone here has understood her context but she is unable to defend her thinking. And the root cause behind rape is patriarchy. No man will commit rape unless he is patriarchal.Recommend

  • LS

    What like of thinking? All she is saying is she is ashamed of that leaders actions/comment – is that bad? Why does Supriya need to defend it? R happen everywhere in all countries not all countries are as Patriarchs as South Asians what do you think is the reason there? What about women raping men or Women raping women or kids? You are clueless. Rape is not just man doing it to women….Recommend

  • Santiago

    She is also giving ridiculous explanations for rape. Those r laughable. Recommend

  • LS

    She is not explaining anything just giving one of the REASON why people do it when she says “Desire to dominate…” again before you go on Patriarch tirade the desire to dominate can be from women to a man too…Recommend

  • Santiago

    Such instances are negligible .. almost non existent. She hasnt been able to justify her stand at all.. end this conversation coz I dont agree with youRecommend