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Need for clean & safe toilets for women in Delhi slums

Payment to Use Toilets

After finding out the average monthly income of a household and the charges of using the CTC in Bawana JJ Resettlement Colony, I estimated the expenditure of each family on the usage of a CTC. On an average a household has five members, the man of the house being the only earning member of the family. The total expenditure on usage of the CTC, by the family, works out to be 37 per day. There is the husband, wife and 3 children. Daily, each of them would use the toilet about five times, paying 1 for each usage; bathing at least once a day entails paying 2 each. The woman of the house has to pay an extra 2 for washing clothes. So, the total expenditure on usage of the CTC, by the family, works out to about 25 + 10 + 2 = 37. Assuming that the man is a daily wage worker and gets the legal minimum wage of 100; 37% of the earnings are being spent solely on the use of a CTC by the family.

We hear a lot about “women’s empoverement” but what is its worth if there is little or no provision of clean toilet facilities for poorest of poor women?

Having been to slums and resettlement colonies of Delhi and talked to the women in these areas, I feel it is not correct to have a ‘blanket’ policy regarding payment for toilet usage by women for all slums and resettlement areas. The women in slums are, generally willing to pay for public toilets, since they have a source of livelihood and their place of work is close-by. However, in resettlement colonies, women are often not working, as they are skilled only in housework and find it difficult to get suitable employment in the neighbourhood. A woman from Bawana JJ Resettlement Colony said: “The men folk can pay, since they earn, but from where are the women supposed to pay?” If women travel to far off areas for work, they also have to spend money to commute. Once they are resettled/relocated to far off places (in an effort to make Delhi slum-free), the sources of income for women decrease drastically and hence they are unable and unwilling to pay for toilet usage each time.

In resettlement colonies, if there are CTCs, the toilet facilities for women should either be free or they should need to pay only a token amount, like 30 per month (as envisaged by policy documents and as mentioned in affidavits of MCD officials). The idea of resettlement is to improve the standard of living of the relocated people who earlier lived in slums. Apart from CTCs, laying proper sewer lines gives the option to the resettled residents to install personal toilets at home; this would lead to increased levels of personal hygiene especially for women and effectively lead to an improvement in the standard of living.

Pay and use toilet facilities for women could work as a policy for slum areas. The model for maintenance of public toilets in Mumbai slums is interesting and could be adopted in Delhi.

Cases of Sexual Harassment

Many women and girls from slum and resettlement areas are forced to go to the toilet in close by forest areas or railway lines as the toilet facilities for them are either not enough or not there or not affordable. In most areas, there is no end to the number of cases of women and girls being sexually harassed while they go to the toilet.

Recently, a newly wedded woman who had come from the village, and had no idea about the ‘toilet system’ in Sanjay Colony, ventured into the forest as she realised that the actual ‘toilet’ was non-existent, she was gang raped and was left unconscious for hours before other women could find her and get her hospitalised.

In Kusumpur basti, a number of males not only men but also boys take to drinking at a young age and they are often found in the forest cover area, walking around, aimlessly, staring at women and young girls who may come there to relieve themselves. Often, a group of four to five drunken men/boys get together and harass females. In Bawana J J Resettlement Colony, groups of men high on ‘ganja’, crowd around toilets and harass girls and women who go to use the toilet in the late evening hours. Power cuts for about an hour or two daily in the evening only increase the vulnerability of women to harassment.

Even when the toilet complexes were functional in Sanjay Colony, there were times when men would jump into the cubicles meant for women. This leads to the question whether a ‘closed’ space or an open space is safer for women. One woman said, “You tell me, if you are squatting in the forest and you see a man, then at least you can run to save your life. But if the door is latched and he jumps from above, then what will you do?” Similar incidents have occurred in one of the Kusumpur toilet complexes when they were in working condition.

Cases such as these are rampant but very few people discuss them, typically, young girls and women often do not even talk about what may have happened to them because it is a question of their honour. It is extremely sad that there is a constant fear about something as personal as ‘answering the call of nature’. Going alone to the toilet is not even an option for women and girls from slum and resettlement areas.

Awareness on how to use a toilet

The issue of awareness about using a toilet was brought up many times during my research. The Sanitary Inspectors, DEMS, felt that many women do not know how to use the toilet. Even within the areas visited, there were women who felt that the ‘other women’ do not know how to use the toilet and therefore, the maintenance levels are poor.

This points to the fact that along with providing public toilets for women in slum and resettlement area, awareness camps need to be organized in slum and resettlement areas to educate people on ‘how to use the toilet’ and the consequences of communicable diseases especially urinary tract and reproductive tract infections. This is particularly important for women, as they throw their dirty cloth/sanitary napkins in the toilets leading to blockages and clogging; if left carelessly, there is an increased risk of communicable diseases. NGOs working in slum and resettlement areas can organize camps every few months so that the message of personal hygiene and clean toilets (especially for women) spreads.

It is surprising that none of the CTCs visited, had a dustbin. This means that even those women who do know ‘how to use’ and ‘how to dispose’ off sanitary products have no help. Probably those (mostly men) who have constructed and are maintaining the toilets do not understand this basic requirement of women in a toilet complex.

Need for a Lobby

The first priority for people from slum and resettlement colonies is to have enough to eat.

Though public toilets are an issue, it is often overlooked by the people, especially women. To raise any issue and fight for it involves time, energy and money. There is a vocal lobby fighting against sexual harassment of women, but it fails to understand that the non-provision of something as basic as safe and hygienic public toilets for women is leading to many cases of sexual harassment in slum and resettlement colonies.

We hear a lot about “women empowerment” but what is its worth if there is little or no provision of clean toilet facilities for the poorest of poor women? It is ironical that even though the two most politically influential women in Delhi – the Chief Minister and the Mayor – are women who often talk about ‘women empowerment’ and 2008 being the International Year of Sanitation, we do not address the issue of toilets for the poorest of poor women.

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