Most of the people forced by lack of toilet space or water in households to relieve themselves in the open know that it is unhygienic for them as well as others. A new study has brought out another fact. Open defecation can be a source of psychosocial stress, too. Women who defecate in the open fear for their safety, and have to be on guard to prevent injuries or accidents. The indignity, shame and embarrassment of it, owing to lack of privacy are significant sources of stress related to open defecation., reveals the study.
Researchers at KEM hospital and Research Centre at Vadu, 30 km from Pune, have been conducting a study on a rural community here and examining sources of psychosocial stress related to lack of toilets at homes, public places, workplaces and schools.
The study also reveals that even those who had access to toilets had to defecate in the open owing to a range of reasons from lack of water to long wait in queues.
“We took the mixed methods approach and included focus group discussions among women, key informant interviews and a community survey of 308 women… Most of the seasonal migrant women workers had no access to toilets,” researchers at Vadu Health and Demographic Surveillance System Siddhivinayak Hirve, Pallavi Lele Sanjay Juvekar and others have said in their paper published in the Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development.
A total of 308 women (165 adolescent girls aged 13-17 years; 143 women aged 18-35 years) participated in the survey.
The proportion of farm labourers was significantly higher among those who indulged in open defecation.
The major problems spontaneously reported by women who used latrines were unavailability of water, inadequate lighting, a long waiting time and unclean toilets. In contrast, major problems spontaneously reported by women who defecated in the open were lack of cleanliness, unavailability of water, fear for personal safety and long distance to the defecation site.
In the case of seasonal migrant women workers, lack of privacy was a significant source of psychosocial stress but they did not fear for personal safety or injuries, despite lack of access to toilet facilities. Women resorting to open defecation also feel stressed and harassed by community leaders trying to enforce policies for ending defecation in the open.
Researchers stressed that the there is a need for sanitation programmes to consider the specific needs of women with regard to latrine maintenance, safety and privacy offered by sanitation installations. Specific strategies to address the sanitation and hygiene issues of seasonal migrant populations are also required.