Thursday, March 24, 2011

No toilet? No problem.

Just as a quick shout out– this post is in response to an article Professor Pruitt sent me – thanks for the great idea!

Several of the blog posts recently have centered on rural health, and the lack of resources and perpetual poverty that prevents access to proper health care. While this is certainly true and is a persistent problem that needs to be quickly addressed, it is also important to acknowledge the several NGOs and other organizations that are aiding rural health initiatives. This post will discuss two campaigns in Cambodia and India that are targeting rural health care for women one individual at a time.

Cambodia’s history is one of blood and war. The country, itself, is still seeking to rebuild and much of development aid comes in the form of foreign assistance. The lack of development is also based upon a lack of Cambodia’s government to properly implement the aid to rural areas that need the money. In order to combat this inefficiency and to afford health care to a country that needs it, the Women’s Health Center in Battambang provides assistance to impoverished women in the area. (Full disclosure: I have a close friend who worked for the center for two years). As stated in this interview, the goal of the Center is threefold: (1) To educate the women on reproductive health; (2) To initiate friendships with the women in order to foster trustworthy relationships; and (3) “To encourage a community of non-violence and respect for women in Cambodia.” These three goals allow these women some measure of control despite their susceptibility to poverty, violence, and lack of education. More importantly, the relationships that are cultivated with these women encourage more than just friendship or reliability, but the actual ability for these women to go see doctors, understand their bodies, and ultimately get the health care they deserve.

In a similar vein, India’s campaign titled “No Toilet, No Bride” ensures the basic right to public toilets for women in the state of Haryana. Haryana, a state in Northern India, is one of the wealthier states and is one of the most economically developed – however, much of the state is still rural. The campaign, initiated by Haryana’s government began four years ago and is a way to ensure that women are afforded this basic right. The campaigns slogan goes as follows: “I won’t allow my daughter to marry into a home without toilets.” While this may strike you as funny, which it is to a certain degree, it should only be laughable considering the fact that these women only have access to 132 public toilets compared to the 1,534 available for men. The lack of toilets impedes women’s ability to work (if you’ve seen North Country, you’ll understand) and more importantly women’s safety. In addition, in a recent study by a nonprofit organization, a lack of toilets for girls in schools does play a significant role in high drop out rates. Thus, providing toilets, sanitary napkins, and a campaign for these women provides a voice and hopefully some credible change. In the end, the gift of a toilet can become the gift of dignity in these women’s lives.

It consistently amazes me that small things like toilets, doctors, and dignity remain a mystery to so many women around the world. By affording these rural women the opportunity to understand their bodies, to aid them in rural health, and to foster relationships, these organizations and campaigns are taking a definitive step to enabling these women to have the same benefits that I inevitably take for granted.


Sarah J said...

Wow, the basic right to toilets-- that's one I hadn't given much thought to before. It's amazing how something so simple and fundamental can be responsible for contributing so heavily to social and gender inequalities. I wonder if rural areas (especially in the developing world) are more familiar with these fundamental inequities than urban areas, or if its just easier for the urban ones to go unnoticed, hidden by the throngs of people. I imagine that toilets are probably not so much the problem in urban areas, but other fundamental needs, such as food and shelter, certainly could be. Either way, the Haryana campaign sounds so important, and it is heartening to know that these concerns are being addressed.

RH said...

I was unaware of the problems many countries face with lack of toilets until I saw a news program on the topic, and I was surprised at how much I had taken toilets for granted. The show mostly focused on the health and environmental issues that can arise from lack of toilets, and it didn't address the issue from a women's rights perspective at all.

One other thing the news program mentioned was the difficulty in getting people to value toilets enough in order to want to buy them. A businessman and some community activists' solution was to try and make owning a toilet somewhat of a status symbol in the villages. I think that "No toilet, no bride" is a terrific idea because it ties the value of a toilet not to social status, but to equality of treatment, and it is great to see how different strategies are being employed to meet the specific characteristics of each country and community that need toilet access.

Jon di Cristina said...

It is interesting out the simplest elements of civilization can have the profoundest impact. It's like that bit in "Donnie Darko" about soap being the greatest invention of all time because it improved sanitation by like 10,000%. Maybe this also shows us that we need to start from scratch in determining what rural communities need. Are there proper roads? Is there electricity? Running water? Some kind of septic or sewer system? The flesh of civilization can then grow onto that skeleton.

Chez Marta said...

I strongly recommend for all of you concerned with the availability of toilets the movie The Pope's Toilet. It takes place during the visit of Pope John Paul II to Brazil, where a village is in preparation of food and other merrymaking. Beto, a local resident decides to install a pay-toilet in his backyard for use by the throngs of people who will obviously need to use that facility. He goes through all sorts of trouble to install the loo, and in the end, it does not get a single visitor -- it seems like people have the ability to hold pee until they get to the outskirts of town and there take care of their business au naturel. An interesting and funny story highlighting the futility of efforts by a small place to put itself on the proverbial map.