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Sunday, 14 July 2013

Gender crimes haunt women who head to field for nature's call

When Anita Narre, a newly-wed bride in Jheetudhhana village of Madhya Pradesh's Betul district, refused to stay at her husband's home for there was no toilet in it, she lent a voice to the problems women face when they head to the fields. While eve-teasing is more or less a daily affair with men singing vulgar songs, making cheap gestures and throwing stones off and on to draw their attention is a routine affair, there is perennial risk of molestation and rape. The plight indicates towards a preventable social reason behind incidents of rapes and other crimes against women.

Threat that comes with nature's call
The lack of functional household toilets in the state could be one of the biggest reasons for women getting raped. As per NGO estimates more than 75% of the rape cases in rural areas take place when women move out of their homes to attend nature's call. "The vulnerability of women at that time is perhaps the highest," said Prof Roop Rekha Verma, founder of Saajhi Duniya. "So many rape victims coming to us for help have shared their stories of horror. And the fact that they fell prey to the evil male instinct when they went to attend nature's call turns out to be a common thread in 75-80% womens," she added. This is something which international organisations have acknowledged in letter and spirit. "Women and girls disproportionately face risks of sexual violence when they have to walk long distances to sanitation facilities, especially at night," argued Catarina de Albuquerque, UN expert on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation at a function when access to water and sanitation was declared as human rights in 2010. "Inaccessible toilets and bathrooms make them more vulnerable to rape and other forms of gender-based violence," she added.
Risk increases when women are alone
The probability of getting raped increases significantly when women venture alone for defecation or urination. Though women prefer to go in groups, but this is not possible all days and at all times. Needless to say that the risk spells doom for some women. Take the example of Lakshmi, a bride in Mathura who wasn't as bold as Anita to be telling her husband to get a toilet constructed inside their house if he wanted Lakshmi to stay with him.
Like most women in her family and neighbourhood, this 22-year-old bride went to the nearby fields at the break of dawn but didn't return home. Her husband Jeetu and others launched a search and found her body, wounded and soaked in blood, in a hedge next to the field where she usually went to attend nature's call. Local police officials believed that some unknown men had raped and killed her. Then there is the story Kshama, who lived in Seevana village of Lucknow. The girl went missing since she left her home for nature's call in the evening one day in April 2012. The frantic search launched by her parents ended with the bad news of her body being found under mysterious circumstances. The examples only hint towards the magnanimous extent of the problem which may be estimated from the fact that more than 85% households in UP do not have a functional toilet.
Household toilets ensure safety
In July 2012, the Madhya Pradesh government launched a campaign called Maryada in which they acknowledged the association of lack of sanitation facilities with the risk of crimes against women. "Through the campaign, awareness is being created among villagers about environmental improvement, sanitation and safeguarding women's modesty," said an official release issued by MP's department of Public Relations.

Experts at Unicef who helped the government take up the issue to the grass root levels, say that rural women admit that they risk their lives and modesty when the venture out of home to attend nature's call. However, they categorically assert that though no planned study has been undertaken to examine the association, there is no dearth of anecdotal evidence. They quickly added that studying the phenomenon was not a bad idea. Certain NGOs in Gujarat found that proper sanitation facilities create a sense of dignity among women advocated facilitating construction of toilets through micro finance and self help groups. Acknowledging the same, the UP government is also looking at the model of associating house hold toilets with safety of women to achieve better sanitation. Recently, Amit Mehrotra, water and sanitation expert at Unicef, was seen telling field officers to use sanitation and safety of women as a tool to convince rural populace get a proper toilet constructed in their homes.
Eye opener
In a mid term analysis of national programmes by ministry of rural development:
* Open defecation was observed and reported in 89.03% of the homes.
* Over 40% of the school toilets were found be defunct, out of use or locked.
* More than 20% of the toilets in the anganwadi centers were not being used.
* Community awareness about sanitation was poor in 40.32% districts.

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