World Toilet Day: Nature Is Calling

November 19th every year is celebrated as International World Toilet Day. This makes one wonder how unclean toilets have an impact on the reproductive health and general health of women in India and around the world. One should also bear in mind that lack of toilets means human waste often contaminates the soil – the very soil in which our food is grown.

The Bhumi Pednekar and Akshay Kumar-starrer movie ‘Toilet, Ek Prem Katha’ brings to fore the issue of lack of toilets in rural Indian households.

Here’s an interesting statistic to start out with – nearly 60 per cent of the human population does not have access to a safe and clean toilet. While this might come across a shock, it’s true. Another interesting statistic is that 1 in every 5 schools do not provide any toilets to its students. And this affects female students, especially once they reach puberty. This problem is not just limited to schools and other educational institutions. This continues to become a bigger problem once women enter other public spaces, especially the workplace.

The situation is particularly deplorable in developing countries like ours. Women often prefer to stay indoors for this very reason. Women who have desk jobs at least have access to toilets; those with jobs that require a lot of travel are affected quite a bit. However, the most affected women are those who work in garment factories and daily wage workers. Otherwise, they have to plan every single outing keeping in mind the ill-availability of spaces to relieve themselves.

Photo Courtesy: UNORG

Health Repercussions

As women who have entered the workplace, we modern women have had to make several changes to the way we live in order to make stepping out possible. One of the first changes we make is drinking less water. This is especially true when we go travelling and are on long journeys. One is advised to drink at least 2-3 liters of water a day. While stepping out of our homes, we only consume about 1 liter at the most. This leads to dehydration on a regular basis. Dehydration by itself has several negative effects including low urine output, lethargy, and dry mouth. Over time, this can have a bad effect on the kidneys. This also leads to an increased risk of urinary infections – both from not relieving oneself for a long period of time as well as from using unclean toilets.

Another effect of perpetually drinking less water is that we interfere with our body’s mechanisms that regulate thirst and urine output. Evolutionarily, we are not wired to fear about finding a place to pee. Now, with our constant fears of not finding a place to pee, we are peeing when we don’t want to and are not peeing when we want to. This sends all kinds of wrong and mixed signals to our brain. This, in turn, interrupts the natural connection between our brain and bladder.

Social Repercussions

Girls from around the world face minor and major inconveniences – from missing school and dropping out of school to having to say no to jobs that do not have toilet facilities or are too far from home. They have to reschedule their entire plans, factoring the availability of toilets, or lack thereof. Women also choose to not travel much; especially bus journeys where there are no frequent stops.

The lack of toilets is a concern especially when women are on their periods; the need to change pads/tampons frequently hinders them from going about their routine. Also, there are no waste bins even if there are toilets. One is forced to dispose of the used sanitary napkins with all other kinds of waste.

What to do?

Women these days have a bunch of options to deal with the menace of unclean toilets – urinary devices. These devices enable women to urinate while standing up so that they do not have to sit on unclean toilet seats. There are also seat sprays particularly meant for cleaning toilet seats before women can use them.

Women on their period can also use menstrual cups or period panties. This means that they do not have the additional problem of disposal; this will definitely make their lives easier. They also only need to change menstrual cups once every 8 hours; period panties can be worn the whole day, while only changing the inserts. Used inserts can simply be folded and put into a ziplock bag and can be washed once they get home.

Though it is wonderful to have products that we can use at our disposal, this is not a long-term solution. We must press our policymakers to make facilities for us. 

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