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W mission for

e burst into Nirmala’s world,


bristling with

cameras and awkward questions. We march through


interrupting her meal. This is a very poor and conservative

corner of rural India and we’re on a

Toilet Twinning, to

photograph latrines. Yet, Nirmala waves aside our apologies and beckons us in with a smile. She’s happy to talk – especially about toilets. She is “over 60” and has only recently built her first latrine. She’s proud to pose beside it for a photograph with her husband, Bishwanath. “I will tell my neighbours to have a toilet for their families too,” she says. And she means it. In Sheohar, this remote district of Bihar

state in north-east India, it’s women like Nirmala whom Toilet Twinning and its

partners are targeting as they encourage communities to build latrines. Because it’s women who have most to gain from proper sanitation, as Nirmala explains. “I built a toilet for my daughters and my daughter-in-law,” she says. “Now they are safe.”

She does not name the risks her girls

face, but it’s clear that Nirmala is referring not only to the snakes and scorpions lurking in the paddy fields. She is hinting at a growing problem in India: sexual assault. Lack of toilets leaves women highly vulnerable. Open defecation – the practice of

relieving oneself in the open – is the norm in rural areas. But, while the men squat happily by the roadside at any time of day, culture dictates that women have to wait until darkness falls. They cannot be seen.

Villagers here may never read the

Talking about toilets may seem undignified but, for the poorest women in rural India, it’s a hot topic – because toilets and dignity are intricately linked. Seren Boyd reports

media stories about brutal rapes; they have not joined recent protest marches for women’s rights. But women like Nirmala are well aware of the dangers as they venture out before dawn or after nightfall. Quietly, they are pushing for change – and making it happen. Lack of proper sanitation causes many

problems for women, some of which are less readily discussed. Rani is a community mobiliser whose

job is to persuade villagers to have a toilet. She’s from these parts so people listen. Away from male company, Rani speaks “Women go twice to the toilet


outside, once before the sun comes up, and again after the sun goes down,” she says. “Even if a woman has diarrhoea, she has to wait. She does not eat and she keeps to herself. This makes her sick and causes lack of appetite, which is stress-

How toilets are changing

women’s lives in India

Twin your toilet on World Toilet Day, 19th November, or twin a loved one’s loo for Christmas. For a one- off £60 gift, you can twin your loo with a latrine in a poor country, and you receive a special certificate with a photo of your twin. For more information visit www.toilettwinning. org or call 0300 321 3217.

26 October 2015 womanalive

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