Groups Bring 10,000 Affordable Toilets To Rural India So Women Can Relieve Themselves Safely

An Indian woman walks in a field after relieving herself in the open, on World Toilet Day on the outskirts of Jammu, India, W
An Indian woman walks in a field after relieving herself in the open, on World Toilet Day on the outskirts of Jammu, India, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. 

For many women in poor, rural parts of the world, a lack of access to a private toilet is not just a matter of inconvenience, it also puts her at risk of diseasessexual assault and ridicule.

But in the poverty-stricken Bihar region of India, a unique partnership between non-governmental organizations and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has resulted in the construction of 10,000 new toilets allowing women to relieve themselves in a more secure and healthy way.

To kick off the project, Population Services International, a global network of locally-based groups, worked with partners including PATH, a global health organization, and Water for People, a water access group, in order to design a toilet that low-income people in the area would be able to buy and install in their homes.

Their market-based approach engages with local entrepreneurs who take part in the construction of the toilets and, three years since its launch, is already impacting the lives of some of the region’s poorest families. According to the organization, 681 of the households who have purchased the toilets did so through a sanitation loan PSI helped facilitate and 36 percent of the toilets sold have gone to individuals living below the poverty line.

In addition, thanks to a partnership with the Friends of Women’s World Banking microfinance institution, over $2 million in loans for the toilets will be disbursed throughout the Bihar region, where just an estimated 30 percent of households currently have their own toilet and 82 percent of the rural population practices open defecation.

The project isn’t just stopping at 10,000 toilets. According to a blog post written by Dr. Desmond Chavasse, PSI’s senior vice president of malaria and child survival, the goal of the project is to deliver over 150,000 toilets to the region.

According to a 2013 BBC story, police and social activists alike believe that the majority of rape cases in the Bihar region are committed when women defecate in the open because they lack access to a private toilet.

The issue is not unique to either Bihar or India alone -- worldwide an estimated 1 billion people still practice open defecation, according to a United Nations report released last year.

Though much progress on the issue has been made in many countries where the practice was previously common, such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, more work remains to be done in order to improve access and change attitudes on the matter, the U.N. says.


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