Women in India who use open defecation are prone to sexual violence and infrastructure improvements can provide them with some level of protection, a US university researcher has said. “Open defecation places women at uniquely higher risk of one type of sexual violence: non-partner,” says Approva Jadhav from the University of Michigan in a research paper published in the latest issue of Bio-Med Central Journal.
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“Women who use open defecation sites like open fields or the side of a railway track are twice as likely to get raped when compared with women using a home toilet,” the study says. The research results, which suggest that women who use open defecation have twice the odds of non-partner sexual violence (NPSV) than women who use household toilets, indicate that infrastructure improvements can provide women with some level of protection against NPSV, it says.
“Our findings provide further rationale for NGOs and the Indian government to expand sanitation programmes, and raise new questions about the potentially protective role of sanitation facilities in other contexts beyond India,” the paper says.
The researchers looked at the latest Indian National Family Health Survey data and analysed a nationally representative sample of 75,000 women to answer questions about access to a home toilet and their exposure to different types of violence. “None of the earlier sanitation studies have looked at the connection between access to a toilet and women’s risk of sexual violence,” said Jadhav, lead author and postdoctoral fellow at U-M’s Institute for Social Research.
“We need more than anecdotes to bring a policy change,” she said.
According to the study, at least 50 per cent of structures built for sanitation purposes in India remain unused or are used for other purposes. The researchers strongly recommends infrastructure improvements that can provide women with some level of protection against sexual violence, along with behaviour changes to utilise these built toilet facilities.
“There have been several nationwide campaigns in India to improve sanitation, most recently Swachh Bharat Mission which can bring access to toilets and safety in national conversation,” Jadhav said. “This is an urgent need that cannot be ignored anymore,” she said.
Nearly half the world’s population lacks access to improved sanitation conditions and half of them reside in India, according to a 2015 UNICEF/WHO report. Almost half a billion Indians defecate in the open and about 300 million women and girls in India have no access to bathrooms.