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When the wheat crop is high we’re better hidden, but once it’s been harvested girls and boys can see each other. Sometimes boys take photos on their mobile phones.
Kajal 16In Kajal's village, open drains pollute the air and there are no toilets so when she has to go, it's in front of prying eyes.
As many of us already know, access to a toilet has proven impacts on health and poverty reduction. But don’t let the numbers distract you from thinking about how it must feel to be one of the the 526 million women and girls who have to go to the bathroom outside every day.
No privacy. No clean, safe water to wash your hands. Nowhere to throw out a used maxi pad
Worse still, a trip to the “bathroom” for 16-year-old Kajal Gautam in Kanpur, India also means risking sexual harassment or assault each day when she and her cousin, Sarita, have to use the open field.
Recently, the world was horrified by the rape and murder of two teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh who were looking for somewhere to go to the bathroom outside of their homes.
Kajal says, “When the wheat crop is high we’re better hidden, but once it’s been harvested girls and boys can see each other. Sometimes boys take photos on their mobile phones. We have to cover ourselves with our scarves. During the monsoon season both the fields are knee-deep in water. We have to find a raised platform and boys face one way while girls face the other.”
What’ll it take to change this?
In Kanpur we are working with local NGO Shramik Bharti to form community water user groups to operate, maintain, chlorinate and test water sources; restore a gender-segregated community toilet block; help families to build their own household toilets; and form a menstrual hygiene committee to offer advice to adolescent girls. By 2016 we’re aiming to have helped 400 families in the Nihura Basti slum of Kanpur to gain access to safe, clean water and toilets.
We know that a toilet alone cannot fully protect women and girls, but it’s a good – and necessary – start.