Almost 65% of public toilets in India do not have a separate section for women, around 71% of public toilets in India are not even cleaned every day, and 66% of public toilets do not have functional plumbing. And India, home to more than 600 million women, is a land where women are treated as Laxmi (goddess of wealth and prosperity) of the house and nationals call their land “Mother India.”
Yet in the same country, the birth land to the most powerful women in the world (Rani Lakshmi Bai, Indira Gandhi, and Nirmala Sitharaman to name a few), 355 million females still do not have access to a public toilet. Amidst all the progress we have made both economically and socially— giving equal employment opportunities, the right to vote, the right against dowry, and the right of self-defence to women — the voice of a woman that asks for basic necessity is lost somewhere.
The results of the survey we conducted across India’s largest Hindi-speaking market were shocking and eye-opening to us, as they are to you right now.
Not keeping pace with growth
With impressive technological advancements and rapid industrialisation, India has grown exponentially across all sectors today. It prestigiously sits among the leading nations in the world, and India’s rich culture and heritage are respected and held in high regard all around the world.
Though growth is an inevitable part of life, it also has to be ensured that its foundational strength is unwavering, which leads us to the questions:“By now, shouldn’t females have access to public toilets?” “Is it really too much to ask that the existing toilets are in a clean and hygienic state?”
I believe the answer to both these questions is yes, but unfortunately, there exists a huge gap between our wish and reality.
After conducting a survey across 12 cities in India, we identified the severity of the situation and that immediate action was needed. As a newspaper brand whose one of every three readers is female, we owed this not just to all the women but to our readers as well.
We decided to raise the voice of women to the government authorities and launched the campaign, “Xcuse Me! Where is My Toilet?” on International Women’s Day. During this three-week campaign, we urged our readers and the women of India’s largest Hindi-speaking belt to speak up about the problems they faced while accessing public toilets.
Giving women a voice
We created a mini-revolution fuelled by women’s stories. Thousands of women shared how the inaccessibility of toilets had become a hindrance in their everyday lives.
Due to the unavailability of clean and sanitary toilets, they did not keep themselves hydrated. We learned women do not use toilets despite the urgent need, and that often results in them developing UTIs or even cancer. They shared how even the famous public places, which witness a high footfall of women, did not have clean toilets. Women who worked in these shops shared how they had to travel long distances to access toilets in a proper, usable state.
These stories were carried in print and re-shared over social networks in huge numbers. Roughly 5,000 women came in support of this campaign, and a rally was organised, which caught the attention of concerned authorities.
We were able to get the voices of women across to the right authorities and to 3 million individuals through our campaign. The best part was that the authorities took note and 13 pink toilets were built exclusively for women.
This was a small step toward empowering women and giving them access to the basic right that was much needed and deserved. With our effort, we addressed the elephant in the room and tried to solve the monumental issue in our own small way, hoping we will soon have a nation where every woman will have access to clean and hygienic toilets.
Photos by Ignas Kukenvs.