I’ve spent the past few weeks looking at the issue of toilets in schools in India, or lack of them. It is widely reported that millions of children, particularly girls, drop out of education because of a lack of washrooms. At this point these children lose the chance of a better life, their potential and enter an apparent cycle of poverty and poor health, simply because they cannot access something most of us take for granted – a loo.
Many females drop out due to a lack of privacy. Being forced to defecate in nearby fields is undignified enough, but when their menstrual circle kicks in during their early teens, they feel embarrassed and ashamed and do not continue their studies. Lack of sanitation affects everyone, but in particular the futures of young women and toilets change lives. Many commentators call it a ‘silent crisis‘. Other reports note “there are more mobile phones than loos in India“. I used the graphic on the left from the World Bank website which explains the need for more washrooms and their support for it.
There are many authorities reporting that 40 per cent of children, many of them girls, drop out of school by the age of 14 because there is no toilet, or no privacy for females. Those girls who carry on attending lose about a week’s worth of education a month as they stay away from their school during their period.
The affect of this is creating a huge inequality for Indian women. They end up in poorly paid jobs, they have more teenage pregnancies and live in poor health with poorly children to look after – mainly caused by the poverty trap they felt they had little choice but to enter. The graphic on the above left illustrates what a difference a full education makes to a girl.
In 2012, India’s Supreme Court ordered all schools have proper toilets and drinking water. But a pan-India study, ‘The Learning Blocks’, conducted by the NGO CRY in 2013, shows that 11 percent of schools do not have toilets and only 18 percent have separate ones for girls. In 34 percent of schools, toilets are in bad condition or simply unusable.
BBC Journalist Soutik Biswas explains in his blog: Why India’s Sanitation Crisis Kills Women – highlighting the issue of lack of toilets – not from an education perspective but for one of murder, horrendous violence and rape endured by females who put themselves in danger and risk their lives to look for privacy.
New project at De Montfort University
In the next couple of weeks I fly to Indore to work on a project with Daly College in partnership DMU Square Mile and the #DMUGlobal programme, where we are looking to establish a way of raising awareness of this issue and do something to address the lack of sanitation in schools in the long term, while in the short-term we hope to work with communities to build washrooms in their schools. With millions of children dropping out of education our impact will be small, but I’m optimistic it will be significant.
The current scale of this issue in India seems overwhelming. But in the book Half The Sky there’s a short story called the Boy and the Starfish which I think demonstrates why it’s important to try do something even if the problem seems too great:
The Boy and the Starfish
A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance, as he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water.
Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.
As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water.
The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied,”I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. “But”, said the man, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw it back into the sea. He replied:
“I sure made a huge difference to that one!”